Maps, Knowledge, and Power in the Link of Oil and People

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Maps have been very important aspects of the history and people have used them as a source of knowledge and power. They have been addressed and used to indicate boundaries of land, geographical features and political boundaries. Knowledge, when used efficiently yields power and this brings supremacy, while maps have led to this knowledge. The knowledge of the existence of oil has made people to mine it and use its enormous returns to dominate the world. Oil is a very important resource to a country since it keeps the economy running by providing energy as well as fetching foreign exchange thus contributing directly to the country’s gross domestic product. Despite many countries being involved in the search for oil minerals, the product has been found to occur only at selected areas of the world. This paper identifies maps, knowledge and power, and their relation to oil and people in the context of Harley (1988) in the book “Maps, knowledge, and power”.

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Maps and knowledge

Harley (1), in the “Maps, knowledge, and power” describes a poem which gives the move from Persia, along Armenia and the Caspian Sea, Bithynia, Turk, Egypt and Arabia, Nubia near Bomo Lake, along the Ethiopian sea and Zanzibar. This movement or migration can prove the hidden meaning of maps and the author emphatically states “Maps cease to be understood primarily as inert records of morphological landscapes or passive reflections of the world of objects, but are regarded as refracted images contributing to dialogue in a socially constructed world” (Harley 2). Moreover, people shift debate from how maps are “true or false, accurate and inaccurate, objective and subjective” (Harper 2) to an ideological distortion of the economic importance. However, the indistinctness of maps is a thing people won’t prove easily and the maps can be manipulated by those who produce them or by the rich and powerful.

The author describes three eminences in which the maps can be traced. Firstly, maps can be expressed as a kind of language. Secondly, maps can only express and identify the surface and only use symbols to indicate deeper meanings. Lastly, maps are knowledge of a social product. Maps come from cartography and they give knowledge to the reader; knowledge is power and by the use of maps then one transfers power to the reader.

The surveyors give knowledge to the map readers not only about the environment but also the defensive imperatives of a certain political system. No matter how a map is produced (either cartographic science or explicit propagandas) it passes through knowledge which in turn is transformed to power.

Power and knowledge become inseparable and they are both embedded in time and space. Maps have been used to elaborate the society’s political influence. “Maps as ‘knowledge as power’ are explored here under three headings: the universality of political contexts in the history of mapping; the way in which the exercise of power structures the content of maps; and how cartographic communication at a symbolic level can reinforce that exercise through map knowledge” (Harper p.5).

When maps are studied in the context they are in, then one can deduce the meaning and purpose of the map. These contexts are the circumstances where maps are produced and brought to play. The context of the maps is corresponding to speech situation which entails reconstruction of both social and physical background so that the map can be produced and consumed. The context helps the reader identify those involved in making and using the map, their motives and the effects and significance of the map will also be known.

In the earlier centuries; in China for example, comprehensive terrestrial maps were developed so as to fit the rulers polices such as to make out successive dynasties. They were also used as military and bureaucratic apparatus in the ancient Europe for defense and warfare.

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Maps therefore played a huge role in the dispensation of power especially geographically. Empires were built and nation states preserved and property declared owned through maps. Maps played an important role in imperialism and colonial capture and recapture, and empire establishment. They were legal documents to identify colonies and empires and assisted in creating myths and passing of kingdom messages which ensured a territorial status quo. They were also used in communication and passing of imperial messages, texts, history, or virtues of any empire.

Institutionalization of Maps

The nineteenth century maps institutionalized and changed to the showing of growth of geography although their power effects got stronger. This age saw maps describe the scramble for African colonies by the Europeans. Maps at this time acted as a currency especially for political bargains, leases, partitions, sales and treaties and they established authority and force of law once they were landscaped (Harley 8).

The modern world saw maps transform to indicate nation states. The maps portrayed estates, political boundaries, and socio-economic geographical factors. Maps were also used to make an identity of property right, as well as being used by individual or state landlords to manage the tenant population. They extended capitalism in the early modern time and were used as regional political influence.

Maps are subject to change and through time, they have undergone enormous changes to the present day. They can be distorted either consciously or unconsciously. The maps have been grouped into social, political, geographical, topographical, and geologic; all these give different contexts regarding the information given. Whenever people use the maps, they assimilate knowledge which makes all the difference in terms of thinking and actions. Historically, maps outlined many borders of political class but these have been changed, leading to certain conflicts. Border changes have induced wars and battles that have left many killed and scores injured. The battle for areas with economic values has intensified and many have distorted maps to favor their stands.

Maps, oil and power

Maps have been designed to show the most world oil producers and consumers. According to the New York Times (para.1), “A map of the oil world” in 2006 Saudi Arabia, Russia and United States were the top three producers of oil with 10.7, 9.7, and 8.4 barrels of oil respectively. They were followed by Iran 4.1, China 3.9, Mexico 3.7, Canada 3.3, United Arab Emirates 2.9, Venezuela 2.8, and Norway 2.8 in descending order to be the top ten producers. With oil being estimated to be draining in reserves, countries have dug deeper in search of the mineral. Every continent has its share in the world reserves although the Middle East claims the largest portion.

The high prices of oil in the world market have also increased the value of the mineral, making more countries to intensify its search (Sabin 58). The relation between maps knowledge and power in relation to oil can only be explained by the battles to control the world’s reserves. Once the maps show likelihood of the mineral, then countries put huge resources to invest in these mineral. If the mineral can occur at political borders then conflicts and war can erupt in an effort to control the resource. This means that maps have created knowledge and hence power. In the extension of power, the oil producing and exporting countries (OPEC) have formed cartels that gives them control of the mineral and it price. When a country has oil, then it has a very high potential of economic growth when exploited positively (Noreng 82).

According to Pava (para.1) in “Who has the oil”, the Middle East takes charge of above 60% of the world’s oil reserves, while the United States consumes the highest ration of oil in the whole world. It is approximated to use exceeding 20, 000,000 barrels daily but it contains not as much of 2% of the remaining oil reserves (World-Oil Reserve, n.d.)

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Akerman (2002), in his article “American Promotional Road Mapping in the Twentieth Century” says that maps have traded as a consumer good since the sixteenth century. The oil has been mostly consumed in the travel industry which has been described as consumption of geographic knowledge. The more people read the more they discover and maps have aided in transmitting knowledge. In 1934, the annual output for road maps from oil companies stood at estimates of 70 million, while in 1964 output from gas maps stood at 200 million (Akerman 2).

Akerman (3) sees maps, knowledge and power in relation to oil differently. He describes the maps that oil companies produce to map the ground for navigation in terms of roads, rails and air. These maps are published and distributed to motorists using the highway so as to access services of automobile companies. He describes these maps as “not just a medium for promotion but also a precondition to consumption”.

The railroad maps were schematic since many users need them for route mapping, pathfinders and trailblazers. These maps transfer knowledge in a unique way since they promote the owners of the maps wherever they can be found. Using maps, people are able to transact business which leads to economic power.

Oil can be said to be the driving force of the economy since it provides energy to the economy. Therefore, any information on where to get it either in its natural or processed form will lead to absolute power to the people. Maps indicating economic and resources especially minerals have been particularly used in the search of rare and important supplies that may be present in the different regions.

Oil is the most sought after mineral, since without oil a country is short of means to supply energy to its population (Flood para.1). Many countries have been spotted looking for oil in their sovereign jurisdictions without success while those that have oil as a mineral have continued to dominate the world in terms of economic prowess. Oil is very expensive to countries and since it is needed in bulk, then countries tend to loose billions in trying to acquire it. Nevertheless, those countries with the resource have tried to search for more to increase their reserves.


In the ancient times, maps were still being used and every time they informed people about various issues. Those who took advantage of the information attained supreme power in terms of empires, colonies and wealth. This highlights the significance and the use of maps over the history of the world. Every map tends to influence the attainment of knowledge, and the implementation of such knowledge leads to attainment of power.

The Maps, Knowledge, and Power in relationship between oil and people can be said to mean that the information got is utilized properly. Those who find oil have a potential to transform themselves. Maps have been used at many instances to transfer knowledge; however, the use of the knowledge brings power to the people. People may have the knowledge and fail to use it leading to loss of power. For many years, oil has been a treasured mineral by many countries and any map indicating its presences would cost a fortune.

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Works Cited

Akerman, James. “American promotional road mapping in the twentieth century” CartograPhy and GeograPhic Information Science, VOl.29, No.3, 2002, pp. 175-191.

Flood, Chris. “Oil slips below $80 as metals retreat.” The Financial Times. 2009. Web.

Harley, J. Brian. Maps, knowledge, and power. New York, Cambridge University Press. 1988.

New York Times. “A Map of the oil world.” New York Times. 2007. Web.

Noreng, Oystein. Crude power: politics and the oil market. London, I.B.Tauris. 2006. Web.

Pava, Aaron. “Who has the oil?” Energy Bulletin. Civil Actions. 2007. Web.

Sabin, Paul. Crude politics: the California oil market, 1900-1940. California, University of California Press. 2005. Web.

“World-Oil Reserve.” The Independent. N.d. 2010. Web.

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"Maps, Knowledge, and Power in the Link of Oil and People." BusinessEssay, 29 Nov. 2021,


BusinessEssay. (2021) 'Maps, Knowledge, and Power in the Link of Oil and People'. 29 November.


BusinessEssay. 2021. "Maps, Knowledge, and Power in the Link of Oil and People." November 29, 2021.

1. BusinessEssay. "Maps, Knowledge, and Power in the Link of Oil and People." November 29, 2021.


BusinessEssay. "Maps, Knowledge, and Power in the Link of Oil and People." November 29, 2021.