Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: “Social geography” is the representation of social space in the environment by means of a variety of property claims. Such claims may be made through the legal system of the state as well as in the non-state, cosmological and ethnohistorical terms of customary law. Mapping projects have therefore sought to elicit indigenous conceptualizations of moral boundaries in and of social space in addition to ones based in universal categories and technologies, such as GIS. Not to make them into a binary but the former may be embodied, rendered as they often are genealogically but also in gendered voices while the latter are abstractions. At the same time as such projects have yielded invaluable data about the distribution of resources in communities, they also reveal how understandings of space, particularly with regard to ownership and agency, are being removed from social relations to become disembedded from lived experience and local relationships. Maps in this sense may be seen as representations of real and imagined spatial knowledge that is in a process of taking a new, universalized form in which local agency is diminished and vulnerable. Taking a variety of material forms, maps represent and present the world from a particular perspective and logic. This kind of research has also raised tricky but compelling methodological questions about fieldwork ethics and collaboration. How does one create a map or counter-map that does justice to the relations it translates and seeks to make legible? What is lost and gain through such renderings? How does one ethically engage in mapping work? Drawing from social anthropology, geography and Graphic Information System (GIS)-based research, the session shall assess the theoretical meanings of property and space in, and the problems that arise from, the various technologies that have been employed in mapping projects.