You are on page 1of 5


Please do not quote and circulate



Albertus Hadi Pramono

PhD candidate
Department of Geography
University of Hawaii at Manoa

Mapping activities by and for local communities and indigenous peoples

have grown rapidly in many corners of the world due to its promising outcomes
in mapping back their existence politically and thus spatially. This kind of
mapping has attracted these group because it allows them to counter the maps
made by dominant powers in imposing the latter’s spatial claims. It is therefore a
counter-mapping (Peluso 1995). However most proponents of and researchers on
counter-mapping have focused on the strengths and weaknesses of the
movement, particularly on the application of cartography and the social impacts
of the movement, while the philosophical foundation of the movement has not
been much discussed. In this paper I would like to propose a philosophical
explanation of the movement.
As a social movement counter-mapping is a form of community
organizing to achieve self-determination among the dispossessed to manage
their own space. As in other similar programs, community organizing in
counter-mapping is designed to raise the critical understanding among the
dispossessed to comprehend their own situations, including the structural
problems that cause their dispossession. Much of the philosophy and methods of
such approach comes from the ideas of participatory methods, which in turn
originates from the thoughts of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian philosopher and
At the same time counter-mapping is also a strategy which grew from
participatory methods, that emphasize dialogue in knowledge production, and
tries to break the scientific knowledge-indigenous knowledge dichotomy by
incorporating local/indigenous knowledge into cartographic maps. It uses the
opportunity provided by the growth of spatial technology. The increasing
availability of low-cost geographic information systems (GIS) and hand-held
geographic positioning systems (GPS) greatly enables them in materializing their
goals and discount the role of cartographers in making maps (Aberley, 1990).
Using Hess’ (1995) term, these spatial information technologies become the
“technologies of resistance” (p. 229) that allow less powerful groups to
reconstruct the technologies. But such reconstruction requires anyone who is
involved in this effort to adopt cartographic literacy, so that she/he can read, use

DRAFT. Please do not quote and circulate

and make modern maps and communicate her/his concerns in the “language” of
Cartographic literacy can mean the ability to read and use maps and the
knowledge on how they are made (Pravda 2000/2001). Focusing on map reading
and use, Rayner (1999) defines map literacy as “the ability to effectively construct
meaning from the symbols found on a map, as well as understanding how to use
map symbols to create meaning” (p. 4-5). However, what she means here, as
many other authors do, is about information about direction, area, position, etc.,
so one can function well in a modern society. It is an apolitical view of literacy.
There is a political view of such literacy in term of building the sense of
nationalism, but the map literate people just receive the values passively (Matless
1999). On the other hand, in counter-mapping cartographic literacy is very
political with active engagement. It is a means to understand the problems the
dispossessed faces through the use of maps in spatial management and to ‘re-
write’ the maps based on his/her interests. By being cartographic literate the
dispossessed can obtain social, political and economic meanings about the
injustices a map can do and later produces new meanings onto a map to
transform the existing power relations. Again this idea is close to Paulo Freire’s
ideas, particularly his concept of critical literacy (Freire, 1985, 1993; Freire &
Macedo, 1987).

Thoughts of Paulo Freire

Paulo Freire is one of the most important philosophers of the twentieth
century. His thoughts affect particularly the grassroots movements and
community development, not only in the Third World but also the First World.
Deeply influenced by Marxist thoughts, he introduced ideas to the marginalized,
oppressed people to escape from their problems. Indigenous persons may find
his thoughts problematic due to his strong modernist view. Nonetheless, much
of his philosophy and pedagogical methods can inspire indigenous movements,
as I will explain later.
The core of the Freire’s thoughts is critical consciousness, which he coins
as conscientização and has been adopted into English as ‘conscientization.’ Finger
and Asún (2001) describes the term as “the process by which a group (class)
become aware of their cultural oppression, of their ‘colonised mentality’, and by
doing so discover that they have a popular culture, a popular identity and a
societal role” (p. 84). The method to achieve this stage is problem-posing
education through dialogue between educators and learners. This method treats
the learners of the marginalized groups not as mere Objects to be filled with
knowledge, but instead they need to break from their ‘culture of silence’ and
become knowing Subjects who have the stake to create new democratic future as
the dominant groups do. Such critical consciousness makes them understand
more about the reality in this world, which then leads them to take action in
order to transform the world by giving new meanings in social relations. Such

DRAFT. Please do not quote and circulate

consciousness emerges from a process of dialogue between the educators and

learners, which affect both the educators and learners in understanding the
reality and then take action to transform the unjust society into a democratic one.
Therefore he treats students also as teachers, and the teachers are students as
well. In contrast, the mainstream education system treats students as if they
empty bottles, which to be ‘filled’ with required knowledge and values in order
to able to function in the society and be a good citizen. Freire refers this as
‘banking education.’
If the contents of mainstream literacy campaigns are for national interests
which are often detached from the peoples, critical literacy adopts words that
reflect the real situation of the learners, because Freire believes that literacy will
be emancipatory and critical only if the language of the people is used (Freire &
Macedo, 1987, p. 159). In rural Latin America, for example, critical literacy
campaigns explore the situations of the peasants in large landholding (hacienda).
By reading and writing the words they can understand the reality around them,
particularly to reveal the social structures imposed upon them. These words
become the medium for the educators and learners to explore and exchange
ideas about the meanings of the selected words. Through such dialogue the
learners will have critical understanding about their lives and thus reach a
critical consciousness.
Although it is never express clearly, Giroux (1995) believes that Freire
implies ‘border crossing’ in his thoughts. In order to have true, meaningful
dialogues the “educators” should allow themselves to cross over different zones
of cultural diversity in order to move beyond their own cultural roots. The
educators and learners have their own sets of worldviews, values and social
practices – or Discourse in Gee’s (1989) term. Therefore it is crucial for the
educators to understand the Discourse of the learners, so they can understand
the meanings that the learners imply and learn from the latter. This means that
educators should have their feet in two sides in a dialogue, their own Discourse
and values and those of the learners.

Critical cartographic literacy

From the explanations above I propose to combine the ideas of
cartographic literacy and Freirean critical literacy into a concept of critical
cartographic literacy. Such literacy is about controlling the Discourse of
cartography to fight against dispossession. By being cartographic literate the
dispossessed as a learner gains ‘consciousness’ about the oppression that maps
impose onto him/her and later produces new meanings onto a map of his/her
version through counter-mapping. The act of counter-mapping is an action to
transform the existing power relations on controlling space. Educators in
counter-mapping are the mappers who are generally activists from non-
governmental organizations, researchers, and indigenous persons with mapping

DRAFT. Please do not quote and circulate

To carry out a counter-mapping exercise the local community should

understand first the contents of existing maps of their place produced by the
powerful entities and how those maps affect them. This leads to or enhances the
consciousness of how injustices expressed in space. The following step to
produce maps of their own version is thus the action they take to confront the
In making maps dialogues and border crossing should take place in order
to produce maps that represent the interests and Discourses of the dispossessed.
In literature on counter-mapping dialogues seems to occur as both the
dispossessed and the mappers learn from each other in producing maps.
Therefore counter-mapping is a form of ‘cartographic encounters’ (Lewis, 1998).
However, I suspect that the flow of information goes more from the dispossessed
to the mappers, because the goal is to produce maps of cartographic standards
which in turn distancing the control by the former. This kind of encounter is
similar to that of the colonial period, in which indigenous persons became mere
informants without having any control with the map production. To overcome
this problem border crossing is very crucial in counter-mapping which may take
the form of crossing over different spatial literacies.
With spatial literacy I mean how a given group or society perceive,
understand and organize a place and how they represent it. Or, in other words,
the terms means the use and control of a Discourse that enables a group or
society gain and make meanings of their place. As the Discourses are so diverse
in the world, even within a community, diversity of spatial literacies also occurs.
Woodward and Lewis (1998) note such diversity, although they emphasize the
different forms of indigenous spatial representation, which in my opinion are
parts of spatial literacies. With such understanding, cartographic literacy is thus
only one of the spatial literacies.
Border crossing in counter-mapping is then the ability and willingness of
the mappers to understand other spatial literacies as they do on cartographic
literacy. To date counter-maps mostly follow cartographic standards, which I
believe are incompatible in incorporating the uniqueness, richness and
complexities of indigenous spatial literacies. As cartography grew within the
philosophy of modernity, it is based on a secular, reductionist view of the world.
Meanwhile indigenous philosophies tend to employ spiritual, holistic views.
Now the challenge for the proponents of counter-mapping is how to find a
middle ground – a third space (Turnbull, 2000) – that enables both kinds of
spatial literacies to represent different needs and the complexities of different

Aberley, D. (Ed.) 1993. Boundaries of Home: mapping for local empowerment.
Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publications.

DRAFT. Please do not quote and circulate

Finger, M. & Asún, J.M. 2001. Adult Education at the Crossroads: learning our way
out. London & New York: Zed Books; Leicester: NIACE
Freire, P. 1985. The Politics of Education: culture, power and liberation. South Hadley,
MA: Bergin & Garvey.
Freire, P. 1993. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Rev. ed. Continuum, New York.
Freire, P. & Macedo, D. (1987). Literacy: Reading the word and the world. South
Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey.
Gee, J. P. (1989). What is literacy? Journal of Education 171 (1), 18-25.
Giroux, H.A. 1995. Freire and the politics of postcolonialism. In. McLaren, P. &
Leonard, P. (eds.) Paulo Freire: a critical encounter. New York: Routledge.
Hess, D. J. (1995). Science and Technology in a Multicultural World: The cultural
politics of facts and artifacts. New York: Columbia University Press.
Lewis, G.M. (eds.) 1998. Cartographic Encounters: perspectives on Native American
mapmaking and map use. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Matless, D. (1999). The uses of cartographic literacy: mapping, survey and
citizenship in twentieth-century Britain. In Denis C. (Ed.) Mappings. (pp.
193-212). London: Reaktion Books.
Peluso, N.L. 1995. Whose woods are these? counter-mapping forest territories in
Kalimantan, Indonesia. Antipode 27 (4), 383-406.
Pravda, J. 2000-2001. Educating cartographic literacy. E-mail Seminar of
Cartography 2000-2001: cartographic education. Retrieved from on July 28,
Rayner, H. A. 1999. Improving Map Literacy: the application of second language
instruction views and techniques. M.E.S. thesis. Wilfrid Laurier University,
Turnbull, D. 2000. Mason, Tricksters and Cartographers: comparative studies in the
sociology of scientific and indigenous knowledge. Amsterdam: Harwood
Academic Publishers.
Woodward, D., & Lewis, G.M. 1998. Introduction. In. D. Woodward & G.M.
Lewis (Eds.), Cartography in the Traditional African, American, Arctic,
Australian, and Pacific Societies. (pp. 1-10). Chicago & London: University of
Chicago Press.