Stanford University
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The Demic Atlas Project: A Non-State-Based Approach to Mapping Global Economic and Social Development
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The Demic Atlas Project: A Non-State-Based Approach to Mapping Global Economic and Social Development

Authors: Anne Fredell, Jake Coolidge, Martin Lewis

The Demic Atlas project provides an alternative to the standard state-based system of mapping socio-economic data at the global scale. Whereas the independent countries that form the basic units of conventional maps vary in population by more than five orders of magnitude, the elemental units of the alternative scheme are defined at the same demographic scale, each containing roughly 100 million inhabitants. Such "demic regions," constructed from aggregations of smaller countries and divisions of larger ones, and are designed to group together areas of similar socio-economic standing. By employing such demographically comparable units, the Demic Atlas seeks to uncover patterns of spatial variation in global development that remains invisible on conventional maps.

The visualization presented here allows the ready comparison of social and economic mapping within the state-based and demic frameworks. Three standard measurements of development are mapped: 1. nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which measures the total value (in US $) of goods and services produced in a given year in a specific territory; 2. GDP in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), which takes into account the fact that the same amount of money can purchase different quantities of goods and services in different parts of the world; and 3. the Human Development Index (HDI), a composite statistic that considers life expectancy, educational attainment, and economic production. Figures for nominal GDP and GDP in PPP are mapped in both aggregate and per capita terms. By clicking on the appropriate buttons, a viewer can toggle between demic and state-based maps of the same indicators, allowing one to see how the representation of global development changes according the spatial framework employed.

As the visualization shows, the demic maps capture the internal differentiation of large countries that remains invisible in the standard framework. Such differences are particularly notable in regard to the world's demographic giants, China and India. Whereas the state-based maps show China as exhibiting moderately low levels of development, the demic maps portray the same area as divided between a relatively prosperous coastal region and a lagging interior zone. The demic scheme also depicts broad patterns relatively well, showing, for example, the much higher levels of development found in southern South America than in the central portion of the continent. The low standing of tropical Africa is also revealed more clearly in the demic maps, particularly that of the Human Development Index. The conventional maps, however, better depict local variation. Countries that have substantially higher (Gabon) or lower (Haiti) socio-economic indicators than their neighbors stand out on the state-based maps, yet disappear on the demic maps, where they are submerged within their boarder regional contexts.

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Source Geospatial Data
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Spatial History