Unconscionable Maps: Geospatial Standardization, Capitalist Expansion, and the Co-Production of Space in Democratic Indonesia

Authors: Timothy Ravis*, Harvard University
Topics: Social Geography, Geographic Theory, Social Theory
Keywords: STS, science and technology studies, GIS, critical geography, urban geography, planetary urbanization, world history, standardization, neocolonialism, international development, Indonesia, Asia, Southeast Asia, urban planning, natural resources, scale, urbanization, post-colonial studies, co-production,
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2020
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Silver, Sheraton, IM Pei Tower, Majestic Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


At a 2010 meeting with the president of Indonesia, the ministers of Forestry and Environment revealed an embarrassing disconnect: the ministries had strikingly different maps of the country’s forest cover. Further investigation uncovered the disconnect throughout the Indonesian government. In a decentralized state with enormous natural resource wealth and rapid urban development, spatial knowledge is a key policymaking input. Therefore, the One Map Initiative (OMI) began in 2011 to address the country’s mapping woes. Though it was nominally launched in December 2018, the OMI remains incomplete. The OMI is frequently described as a “mess”—despite hundreds of millions of dollars of international support. What is the meaning of this mess? Beginning from the proposition that measurement underlies all exchange, this paper explores this question through the empirical frame of moments of contestation between the OMI, international institutions, and participatory mapping NGOs. I build a theoretical framework situated at the intersection of critical geography and science and technology studies (STS). Critical geography argues that space is produced dialectically through social contestation. Meanwhile, co-productionist STS argues that when actors contest each others’ premises in such moments, they divulge the interpretive flexibility of constructed concepts which grant legitimacy and power, such as objectivity. What are the reasons for the OMI’s troubles? How do new cartographic and geospatial tools and regimes rework inherited forms of spatial organization and knowledge? What is the role of standardization in world-historical processes of spatial reorganization and colonial competition?

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