Control of Geographic Information in the Modern Age: Remote Sensing and Hydro-Hegemony in the Mekong River Basin

Authors: Ben Roberts-Pierel*, Oregon State University
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Remote Sensing, Geographic Theory
Keywords: Transboundary river basins, remote sensing, geographic information, hydro-hegemony, critical remote sensing, water resources
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Studio 5, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Since ancient times, the control of geographic information around the world has been integral to the construction of states, the waging of war and the exploitation of resources. This paper investigates control of, and access to, geographic information in the 21st century. It focuses specifically on remotely sensed water quantity data in transboundary river basins, using the Mekong as a case study, and asks whether these data might have an impact on the traditionally ‘top-down’ control of geographic information and power. Much of the thinking on transboundary basins suggests that cooperation between States is more likely than conflict, but also that power imbalances can play a role in determining the nature of that cooperation. Literature on data sharing suggests that there are data or information sharing provisions in roughly half of transboundary water treaties and that pre-existing relations and regime type are important to the nature of the data sharing. While many countries, particularly in the Middle East and South/Southeast Asia are recalcitrant in their hydrologic data-sharing practices, publicly available data may render their obstinance moot in the future. These data and the existing power structures are analyzed through a lens of hydro-hegemony (Zeitoun and Warner, 2006) to understand how the increasing prevalence of ‘bottom-up’ data might impact existing power asymmetries. As this is a nascent topic, the initial phase of the project relies primarily on a review of available literature. Very initial results suggest that these data may have the greatest counter-hegemonic impact in the hands of non-governmental organizations.

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