Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
Modern maps represent geographic space. They assert the universality of their representational authority and state-based sovereignty over spaces. Pre-state maps in Papua New Guinea make no universal claims about representational authority. Rather, their claims constitute local knowledge about specific regions in which “the ancestors” originated or to which they migrated. The deployment of new geo-spatial information technology (GIS and GPS) would expectably exaggerate the difference between these two kinds of maps because GIS and GPS technologies make universal claims about the authority and accuracy of the spatial information that they produce although they may have differing relations to the state. The superimposition of these new spatial technologies onto pre-state maps has been viewed both as a source of empowerment for and exploitation of local, stakeholder-citizens. This paper assesses the use of GPS in the context of a participatory mapping project conducted in a rural Papua New Guinea in 2010-2014 where no grand development projects were underway, no extractive industry was taking place and where the postcolonial state had minimal impacts. Ethnohistorically based conflict among local communities were encountered that was largely unaffected by the introduction of the new technology. In other words, the relationship between GPS technology and the setting in which it was deployed depended on local power relations that were neither exacerbated or ameliorated by the application of the new technology.