Emanuela Casti

Emanuela Casti and her staff of research, University of Bergamo, December 2014

Emanuela Casti (born 1950 in Mira, Venice, Italy) is an Italian geographer and a cartography theorist. A Full Professor at the University of Bergamo (Italy), in 2004 Casti founded the Diathesis Cartographic Lab, a permanent workshop devoted to territorial analysis, cartographic innovation and experimentation. A noted innovator in the field of theoretical cartography, Casti formalized a semiotic theory of geographic maps

Academic career

Having graduated from the University of Padua with a thesis on the historical evolution of cartography in Mantua, professor Casti started her academic research in 1983, when she was appointed researcher at the same university. Casti became an associate professor at the University of Bergamo in 1992 and full professor in 2001. She also taught courses, lectures and seminars at other academic institution both in Italy (University of Turin) and abroad (EPFL - École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Parigi VII - Paris- Diderot).

Since the date of its foundation until it was officially terminated in 2012, professor Casti was a member of the Academic Board (Collegio dei Docenti) for the PhD program on “Geografia dello sviluppo e delle dinamiche urbano-regionali” (Geography of development and of urban-regional dynamics). She has been involved in research groups both at the national level (with active links to the Italian journal Terra d’Africa) and internationally (within the Eidolon network). Casti is also a member of many leading Italian societies (AGeI, SGI, RGI, AIIGI) and international workgroups (UGI, ICA).

After starting her career as a specialist on Venetian historical cartography, Casti has widened the scope of her research to embrace various historical periods. She has extensively analyzed the role of maps in the Italian region of Lombardy in the Renaissance and Early Modern times; addressed key issues in Italian and French colonial cartography and investigated prehistoric examples of rock-engraved mapping in Valcamonica (Camonica Valley, Italy). Far from being regarded as mere historical artifacts, these cartographic examples provided a solid background for empirical and applied analysis. On the basis of such maps, professor Casti developed her theory of cartographic semiosis. Casti has also used the same theory to shed more light on the products and the communicative and pragmatic potential of digital mapping, GIS and WebGIS, with a focus on participatory mapping in support of local governance. By pinpointing the complex mechanisms at work in a geographic map, Casti’s research highlighted the links between cartography and geography and the discrepancies between traditional and digital maps.

Africa has long been the privileged object of professor Casti’s numerous on-site surveys, well over thirty since 1992. In this context, she conducted applied research regarding environmental protection and cooperation with countries in the developing world, working within the framework of EU programs, of the International Union for Conservation of Nature(IUCN)and of UNESCO. In particular, Casti participated in projects for the management of the buffer zones of protected areas in West Africa: i.e. the 2002-2005 collaborative project with the French CIRAD research center of Montpellier involving the W Transboundary Biosphere Reserve of Niger, Benin and Burkina Faso; and the 2006-2009 collaboration with the excellence university center 2iE- Institut International d'Ingéniérie de l'Eau et de l'Environnement di Ouagadougou - Arly Protection and Conservation Unit in Burkina Faso.

Prof. Casti currently pursues her line of theoretical and applied research in the field of cartography, while also devoting herself to urban planning and territorial valorization and development. Through the creation of participatory mapping systems between 2012 and 2013, Casti led the participatory process for the application of the Italian city of Bergamo as 2019 European Capital of Culture (Bergamo Open Mapping) and, in the years 2014 to 2015, the participatory process for the revitalization of public spaces in Bergamo (BG Public Space).

In 2012, with the aim to kickstart the regeneration of territories via a tourism-based approach, Casti promoted and implemented a European network of cluster cities (comprising Bergamo, Beauvais, Cambridge, Charleroi, Girona, Lübeck, Santander); all medium-sized cities, located in urban areas, with a university and an airport served by low-cost airlines (Project entitled: Centrality of Territories, towards the regeneration of Bergamo in a European network).

Main theoretical achievements

The Theory of Cartographic Semiosis

Professor Casti elaborated the theory of cartographic semiosis in 1998, when she also published her first theoretical book L’ordine del mondo e la sua rappresentazione, translated into English in 2005 under the title Reality as Representation. The semiotics of cartography and the generation of meaning. Casti’s theory lies within the fold of the research area called “postmodern cartography” inaugurated by John B. Harley in 1989 and developed in the first decade of the 21st century with contributions by Emanuela Casti, Jeremy Crampton, Martin Dodge, Rob Kitchin, John Pickles, Denis Wood. The underlying assumption of postmodern research is a questioning of the objectivity and neutrality of maps, and more specifically a questioning of the scientific nature of Euclidean metrics. Accordingly, maps are not seen as straightforward “mirrors of reality”, but rather as instruments through which reality is shaped. Casti’s key contribution lies in having embraced this initial assumption as a springboard for articulating a theory able to investigate the construction and the communicative mechanisms of maps. By shifting the focus of interest from maps as tools for mediating territory to maps as operators which actively affect the range of activities one can implement on territories, Casti’s theory earmarked the areas in which action is needed in order to take control of the communicative outcomes of mapping. Assuming a symbiosis between territory and mapping, Casti conclusively defines maps as complex denonational acts, on the basis of which individuals appropriate territory intellectually and symbolically order the world. Maps should be taken as instances of a “metasemiosis" - or “second-level semiosis”, for even though they are based on territorial semiosis they also deploy signs, names, symbols which convey messages and meanings quite independently of the intentions of those who first produced them.

Professor Casti explores the transition from a topographic mapping, created by government agencies, to open cartography, collaboratively produced by the people (and linked to a new idea of Chorography). The latter has the potential to become a highly workable concept, to be used as an operator for assisting citizens in thinking and designing their own living space and in understanding the current world. Specifically, Casti argues that, by virtue of its highly interactive features, new digital mapping (specifically WebGIS) opens up new scenarios, and poses cybercartography as a privileged discipline for recovering and promoting the social significance of territory in all its forms (landscape and environment).

The SIGAP strategy and participatory mapping

The SIGAP strategy (Geographic Information Systems for Protected Areas /Participatory Action) is a research methodology that adopts cartographic semiosis and tests its actual range of application. It takes up concepts presented by international agencies - such as "sustainability", "conservation" participation” - and turns them into operational tools for territorial and environmental planning. Tested in various national and international contexts with regard to a variety of issues (migration, environmental protection, landscape planning, tourism systems, urban regeneration, etc.), the SIGAP methodology deploys the typical range of geography-based competences in the field of applied research. As such it involves all stages of analysis: the adoption of a theory informing land methodology; interaction with local inhabitants for the reading of data; construction of interpretative models and their cartographic visualization. In each of these stages, cartography takes on different capacities depending on the goal to be pursued. The final product is an interactive multimedia system GIS which becomes as an invaluable tool for field research, for the implementation of intervention strategies, for the processing and circulation of data. Participatory mapping systems play an essential role in this context, because they can recover the role of local communities and produce cartographic representations that take account of local interests. According to the technology involved and the level of participation entailed, these systems may include: i) participatory mapping, carried out by local communities at the request of an external party; ii) Community Integrated GIS - or CIGIS, built and operated by actors outside the community but including data collected through participatory methodologies; iii) Public Participation GIS - PPGIS), made and used directly by local communities in an exchange with local administrators or supervising agencies. The latter, based on WebGIS technology, fall within the realm of "cybercartography" or “open” digital mapping systems that allow users to interact, by promoting social projects and processes (Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre).

S-Low Tourism

Casti uses the phrase “s-Low Tourism” to underline the absence of a clear conceptual break between the notion of slowness and the notion of speed. In fact, her acronym refers both to "slow" as a prerequisite for a mindful experience of territory, and to low-cost airlines that have revolutionized the way we think about air travel, as something different from a journey, something based on speed and safety. On the one hand, air travel has increased, is more intense, and usually covers a shorter period of time: it underlies a current lifestyle, whereby tourist destinations are no longer analyzed on the basis of conventional indicators. At the same time, though, the notion of sustainability applied to territorial planning has amply shown that tourism is a driving force for local communities, which conceive and present their own space not only as a holiday destination but as a place to be experienced in its social, cultural and environmental features. In a leap of perspective, tourism ceases to be a mere driving force for economic development and becomes an opportunity for regional regeneration, with a view to producing social development through the recovery of a sense of place, that is to say of the key value of territory. This is a kind of regeneration that focuses on the cultural and natural resources of territories, now made available online to a new type of tourist who is steeped in information technology and accustomed to new modes of travel. This new tourist-traveller looks for a travel experience based on slow appreciation, on ecology-conscious, environmental and green mobility. Yet, at the same time, mobility has to be fast for travellers to be able to experience more theme-based destinations that share comparable cultural features. At the local level, this new tourism is based on the enhancement of small enterprise projects, of smart technology, and of citizen participation. Internationally, it must be based on a synergy between public and private institutions, aimed at promoting common policies to develop tourism and accessibility.

The RIFO method

The method comes from a monitoring study on disused and obsolete areas (buildings erected between 1950 and 1980) in Lombardy. It relies on three assumptions: the symbiosis between land-regeneration and urban restructuring; a shift of focus involving “cities” no longer seen as territorial structures but as sites that embody an ecological lifestyle; the prospect of circular restructuring of disused and discontinued areas, with the active participation of local inhabitants. Operationally, this method aims at replacing outdated buildings (in terms of safety, energy saving, new forms of living, and sanitation) with new buildings that meet current living needs and at the same time reclaim wasted space. In fact, while maintaining the same volume for buildings, the RIFO method also expands the use of underground space and thus envisions a reduction of the surface taken up by covered areas, with the possibility of freeing up land for later use as parks and green areas. RIFO envisages a circular process of demolition and reconstruction for obsolete and disused areas, and so entails the relocation of inhabitants who live in old tenement buildings within the same district. Such short-range relocation aims at inclusive restructuring by implementing participatory strategies in the stages of planning, ensuring an active role for local inhabitants the whole process of demolition and construction. A participatory methodology - the SIGAP Strategy - retrieves the spatial capital, that is to say the set of knowledge and skills of inhabitants who actively operate the places they inhabit. SIGAP also sheds light on the use of space assets found in public RIFO areas (public services, accessibility, natural heritage); it detects priorities and critical issues (pollution factors, need for green spaces, social distress and safety) and recovers the layered values attributed to the sites.


Environmental protection:

Multimap RBT W – Réserve de la Biosphère Transfrontalière W

Parc National d’Arly (E. Casti, S. Yonkeu, Le Parc National d’Arly et la falaise du Gobnangou - Burkina Faso, L’Harmattan,Parigi, 2009)


Participatory mapping

BG Open Mapping

BG Public Space

Urban regeneration and land use:


Restructuring ex-GRES Area, Bergamo

s-Low Tourism:

Centrality of territories. Towards a regeneration of Bergamo in a European network


Professor Casti has over a hundred publications in Italian, French and English. Among these:


  • Reflexive Cartography. A New Perspective on Mapping, Elsevier, Amsterdam, Oxford, Waltham - MA, 2015 (original ed.:Cartografia critica. Dal Topos alla Chora, Guerini Ed., Milano, 2013).
  • Reality as Representation. The Semiotics of Cartography and the Generation of Meaning, Bergamo University Press, Bergamo, 2000 (original ed.: L'ordine del mondo e la sua rappresentazione, Milano, Unicopli, 1998).

Among her contributions and articles in English and French:

Book Chapters

  • “Cartographic Semiosis: Reality as Representation”, in: Jacques Lévy (ed), A cartographic turn: mapping and the spatial challenge in social sciences, EPLF Press/Routledge, Losanna, 2016, pp. 135–165.
  • “Mapping otherness”, in: Jacques Lévy (ed), A cartographic turn: mapping and the spatial challenge in social sciences, EPLF Press/Routledge, Losanna, 2016, pp. 207–231.
  • "Une recherche participative pour la valorisation culturelle et la promotion touristique du patrimoine mondial: les plans gravés du Valcamonica (Italie)", in: Gravari-M. Barbas, Jacquot S. (ed), Patrimoine et Développement au défi mondial du tourisme durable, Presses de l'Université du Quebec, 2014, pp. 271–298.
  • "Participatory Mapping and environmental conservation in Western Africa: the SIGAP Strategy", in: E.K. Boon, L. Hens, G. Oviedo, Management of National Parks and Biodiversity Conservation in Africa, Kamla-Raj Enterprises, Delhi, 2012, pp. 157–172.
  • “Le paysage comme unité de planification du Parc Arly: la falaise du Gobnangou”, in: E. Casti, Yonkeu S. (ed), Le Parc National d'Arly et la falaise du Gobnangou (Burkina Faso), L'Harmattan, Paris, 2009, pp. 17–48.
  • with F. Burini, "Cartographic cataloging and filing: towards a new definition of the colonial mapmaker", in: E. Liebenberg, P. Collier, Demhardt I. (eds), Proceedings of the Symposium of the International Commission on the History of Cartography in the 19th and 20th centuries, Portsmouth University, Portsmouth, United Kingdom, 10–12 September 2008, ICA Commission on the history of cartography, Pretoria, 2009, pp. 1–12.
  • "Sémiologie visuelle et cartographie. La construction d'une sémantique de l'Ailleurs ", in: Costantini M. (eds), L'Afrique, the sens. Représentations, configurations, défigurations, L'Harmattan, Paris, 2007, pp. 77–106.
  • "State, Cartography, and Territory in the Venetian and Lombard Renaissance", in: D. Woodward, GM Levis (eds), The History of Cartography, Vol. 3, The University of Chicago Press, 2005, pp. 874–908.
  • "L'icônisation cartographique en Afrique coloniale", in: J-P. Bord, P. R. Baduel (ed.), Le cartes de la connaissance, Karthala-Urbama, Paris-Tours, 2004, pp. 419–435.
  • The "Cartographie” entry, in: J. Levy, M. Lussault (ed.), Dictionnaire de la géographie et de l’espace des sociétés, Belin, Paris, 2003, pp. 100–101.
  • "Les ateliers' culturels» de l'Ailleurs: the cartographie colonial Afrique de l'anglaise ", in: M. Colin, E. R. Laforgia (ed.) L’Afrique coloniale et postcoloniale dans la culture, la littérature et la société italiennes, représentations et témoignages, Presses universitaires de Caen, 2003, pp. 15-40.

Journal articles (from 2001)

  • “A reflexive cartography and environmental conservation: a model of participatory zoning”, in: Global Bioethics, and. mail 16 May 2014.
  • "Cartographic technologies for territorial governance",in: ESPACESTEMPS.NET, 2012.
  • “Le tournant proxémique : de la représentation à la spatialité cartographique”, ESPACESTEMPS.NET, 2012.
  • “WebGIS Semiosis: Building a Plural Space”, in: Trans. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften, n. 17, February 2010.
  • "Towards A Theory of Interpretation: Cartographical Semiosis ", in: Cartographica, vol. 40 No. 3, 2005, pp. 1–16.
  • "The Analogical and Digital systems in Euclidean Cartography: the colonization and iconisation of Africa", in: Diskussionsbetraege Zur Kartosemiotik Und Zur Theorie Der Kartographie, vol. 4 No. 3, 2001, pp. 15–28.
  • "Mythologies africaines cartographie dans la française au Tournant du XIXème siècle", in: Cahiers de Géographie du Québec, Université Laval, Quebec, vol. 46 No. 3, 2001, pp. 429–450.
Uses material from the Wikipedia article Emanuela Casti, released under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license.