- Radical Cartographies: Participatory Mapmaking from Latin America ed. by Bjørn Sletto et al.
This volume took shape during the Forum on Participatory Mapping and Forest Rights, held in Bogotá, Colombia in 2011, which was followed by an encounter in Rosario, Argentina in 2012. Several of the volume's authors are from the communities they write about while others are engaged intellectuals who have worked with the communities for years or decades. Chapters are on lowland indigenous and Black (Afro-de-scendant) [End Page 181] communities in Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Venezuela and Mexico. The book contains abundant samples of maps and photographs from each community mapping project.
Participatory mapping is a response to land grabbing, resource depletion, and enclosures, often traced to extraction, and the Forum meetings (2011–2012) coincided with an extraction boom in Latin America (including hydroelectric projects that provided the energy demands, and roads the connective tissue, of the extractive economy).
The term radical in the title refers to the "mobilizations from below" (p. 219) of marginalized communities. First, through mapping, radical cartography repudiates the authoritarian practice since the colonial period of "disappearing" indigenous and Black communities from maps. Second, communities' production of maps challenges the "historic monopoly over cartography" (p. 164) by planners, corporations, government, land speculators and the military. Third, the projects are spaces of collaboration where people debate and create visions of their own communities' territories. Radical cartography can foster cultural "recovery and identity formation" (p. 57). Fourth, radical community mapping has succeeded in stopping extraction, dams and other projects that threaten people's cultures, livelihoods and territory.
One recurring indignity is the myth of empty spaces in cartography since the colonial period, which continues with devastating implications for forest dwellers. Pineda (Chapter 4) relates how oil companies in Peru created the "political fiction" of the selectively empty map—rich in detail on oil reserves yet silent about the indigenous people who live there (p. 68). Zoning for development is another example. Almeida Farias Junior (Chapter 9) describes an indigenous village that exists perilously close to the sprawling capital city of Manaus, in the Brazilian state of Amazonas. Community members there often lack title (p. 75). This omission led a land developer to mark up a map of the aldeia (village) with urban lots in a classic land grabbing move. Facing displacement, people made maps to register their own territorial existence that went much deeper than asserting property ownership. Their maps not only registered the presence of households in the area; they showed that community members could not be bought off through resettlement schemes.
Map design is another facet of a cartography of resistance. Radical mapping represents territory as a network of relations, not just the boundaries that governments are so eager to demarcate as private property. This intention calls for a different cartography where map elements coexist. As Álvarez notes in Chapter 2, "territory is a living fabric…" (p. 35) "… woven together by memory, culture, and nature" (p. 35). Livelihoods are similarly represented as networked. Pineda (Chapter 4) describes how Achuar participants in a mapping project of the Corrientes River basin in Peru chose polygons over points, given the community's reliance on hunting. Trails that link people to resources need to be made visible on maps and protected from fences and other impediments to livelihood strategies.
Conflict maps reject the standard cartographic abstractions of terms such as: school, church, road, store, river, Indian. These are [End Page 182] replaced with more meaningful symbols of struggle—a polluted stream, an impeded access to resources, an illegal encampment, abandoned machinery, or individual trees that had been destroyed. These symbols document "the socio-environmental disasters" communities face (p. 121). Symbols are made to recognize and to defend resources, as well. A map might show the location of a spring, or the area offshore where salt and freshwater comingle.
Radical cartography is a cultural hearth around which communities have inter-generational conversations...