Academic journal article Human Organization

Maps of, by, and for the Peoples of Latin America

Academic journal article Human Organization

Maps of, by, and for the Peoples of Latin America

Article excerpt

This article, and the collection of essays it introduces, discusses the development and use of participatory mapping (PM) in Latin America. The methodology, with roots in participant observation and collaborative research, represents the fullest involvement of local people who are trained to do research or applied work with the researcher, facilitator, or team. PM transforms cognitive spatial knowledge into map and descriptive forms. Two types exist: one type, including participatory action research mapping (PARM) and participatory rural appraisal mapping (PRAM), uses mapping for social action; the other, participatory research mapping (PRM), aims at research. The PM approach developed among geographers and anthropologists studying indigenous populations in Latin America. The articles in the collection detail five different PM projects working with about 20 different indigenous populations, living in some of the region's most important conservation lands in Mosquitia, Veraguas, Darien, and western Amazonia. The projects show how PM has become a "keystone activity" in a wide range of research and development work. This novel methodology for collecting geographic information is helping to meet a variety of research and societal needs. Indeed, the superior results from some applications challenge even the most deeply rooted norms about the construction of cartographic knowledge.

Key words: participatory research, participatory mapping, indigenous peoples, Latin America

When social scientific work is undertaken at least in part to convey another people's sense of their needs, the problems are as much political as they are methodological.

Hugh Brody, 1982:xiv

More indigenous territory has been claimed by maps than by guns. This assertion has its corollary: more indigenous territory can be reclaimed and defended by maps than by guns.

Bernard Nietschmann, 1995:37

An interest in the power of maps has emerged among indigenous populations and among the developers, environmentalists, human rights activists, and researchers working with them in Latin America. These mainly non-text-based societies are adopting participatory research methods and Western-style maps as tools of empowerment in what advocates call "counter mapping," "power mapping," "social mapping," and "remapping." Generally known as participatory mapping (PM), it recognizes the cognitive spatial and environmental knowledge of local peoples and transforms this into more conventional forms. A methodology with roots in participant observation and collaborative research methodologies, PM has phenomenological ties to social action and justice. It is a new sort of community-based cartography that challenges the long-standing positivistic institutional ideals about producing geographic information.

This article introduces participatory mapping while providing a broad frame of reference for the other contributions to this special collection. The late geographer Brian Harley (1990a:2) argued, "Our discourse about maps, whether historical or modern, should be made more responsive to social issues such as those relating to the environment, poverty, or to the ways in which the rights and cultures of minorities are represented on maps." We believe this new way of mapping does this without necessarily losing its scientific rigor. This introduction and special collection will show that while map-making has been a tool of the powerful, today it is becoming a tool of empowerment for indigenous peoples.

Indigenous Mapmaking Then and Now

Cartographic representation is not new to indigenous societies in Latin America (Gartner 1998; Mundy 1998; Whitehead 1998; Woodward and Lewis 1998). Early historic accounts testify to the well-developed mapmaking skills of the aboriginal societies. Indigenous spatial perception and representation significantly influenced the colonial enterprise. From Cortes's time on, indigenous populations have shared their spatial knowledge to help conquerors, explorers, and researchers draw maps of their lands. …

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