Earth Writing, Vector Abstraction, and the GIS: Towards an analytic of Vectors of Dispossession

Authors: Isaac Rivera*, University of Washington
Topics: Economic Geography, Cyberinfrastructure, Cartography
Keywords: Critical GIS, Decolonial Digital Geographies, Political Economy
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Palladian, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Within the health sciences, vectors are agents that carry and transmit pathogens from one organism to another. Computer scientists understand vectors as virtual mathematical quantities that are composed of geometry and direction. Cultural materialists understand vectors as entities of abstraction that produce the material objects that orient Western reason onto the world, most recognizably through the production of maps. Vectors are the points, lines, and polygons within GIS epistemology that have concretized the idea of vector-abstraction as a seemingly natural, neutral, and always evolving geographical process. Vector production, like map-making, produces borders, territories, histories, and subjects that grid entire populations and worlds within the logics of Western thought. Through labor, the vector class construct the vectors that perform and transmit ways of knowing while at the same time serve as vehicles for freezing and invisiblizing life outside of capital logics. This paper contends for an analytic of vectors of dispossession through the merging of GIS epistemology and the critique of political economy for a decolonial reading of knowledge production. Additionally, with a genealogical engagement with the materiality of Western knowledge production, this analytic seeks to trace out a method for thinking through the mechanics of abstraction throughout infrastructures of the GIS, code space, and digital algorithmic platforms that produce and write the world into being. Moreover, vectors of dispossession are a tool for thinking through the material consequences of performing vector abstraction through labor and its myriad of consequences for both land and peoples, for the digital age and beyond.

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