Caretography - Mapping Difficult Issues with OpenStreetMap during Difficult Times

Room: GHS

Monday, 11:30


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  • David Garcia (Geospatial Research Institute Toi Hangarau and Department of Geography, University of Canterbury, Aotearoa New Zealand)
  • Martin Dittus (Oxford Internet Institute)

The popular view is that mapping the world is just an act of reflecting reality and reflecting nature. People rely on map-makers like us to show them the “true” spatial arrangement of the world. And yet, making a map also involves making assumptions, omissions, additions, and generalisations, and it feeds on our training, experiences, and personal perspectives as map-makers. A map is never really “true”, it is shaped by the hands of its creators, and it is always also a product of chance and its circumstances of making, sharing, and use. It can be said that map-making is world-making: maps shape our understanding of the world, and inform our actions in the world, and a map by a different author can give access to a different world. So how do we create a map of the world that is created by the world, and not just by a privileged few?

To fully appreciate the complexity of this challenge we need to extend our understanding of what counts as maps and mapping, and why. In order to understand our responsibility as map-makers, we need to become both critical and caring cartographers. This shift in perspectives and attitudes can help us understand better what can happen when our everyday mapping practice connects with real-world circumstances. It may also help us become more responsible as the volunteer workers of OSM.

David and Martin will guide you through a careful and caring consideration of OSM based on personal experiences, and talk about the responsibilities we carry as we map and make the world during difficult times.

For example, we may encounter circumstances where the OpenStreetMap approach to openness brings complications. Can the communities represented on the platform make decisions about how they’re being written about? Indigenous communities around the world regard their land as sacred and don’t want it to be mapped. Should we as a global community know when not to map? There are circumstances where the act of mapping itself can bring danger to the mapper. Do we have the right methods to assess such risks? What support can we offer those who take them? If we don’t, whose hand gets to shape the map instead? And what does all of this this mean for a do-ocracy, where decisions emerge slowly and can often contradict each other? Or to put it even more broadly, how can we diversify, democratise, denaturalise, and decolonise open mapping?

Who cares, you ask? David and Martin have participated in the OSM ecosystem as mappers, researchers, and organisers, and have been involved in the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and other global mapping initiatives. Based on their personal experiences they will introduce you to a careful and caring consideration of OpenStreetMap cartography, and talk about the responsibilities we carry as we map the world. They ask you to consider that maps are not universal, and that even in OpenStreetMap many different maps and mappings are possible. They propose that a better map may be a pluriversal one, where many different perspectives can coexist. Can OpenStreetMap accommodate this? Which practices can help us produce maps that represent the world more equitably? More importantly, if we think that mapping can make a difference in a time of global precarity, inequalities, climate catastrophe, and mass extinction, then they ask you to care.