The digital age has thrown questions of representation, participation and humanitarianism back to the fore, as machine learning, algorithms and big data centres take over the process of mapping the subjugated and subaltern. Since the rise of Google Earth in 2005, there has been an explosion in the use of mapping tools to quantify and assess the needs of those in crisis, including those affected by climate change and the wider neo-liberal agenda. Yet, while there has been a huge upsurge in the data produced around these issues, the representation of people remains questionable. Some have argued that representation has diminished in humanitarian crises as people are increasingly reduced to data points. In turn, this data has become ever more difficult to analyse without vast computing power, leading to a dependency on the old colonial powers to refine the data collected from people in crisis, before selling it back to them.
Mapping Crisis: Participation, Datafication and Humanitarianism in the Age of Digital Mapping
(University of London Press, 2020) brings together critical perspectives on the role that mapping people, knowledges and data now plays in humanitarian work, both in cartographic terms and through data visualisations, and questions whether, as we map crises, it is the map itself that is in crisis.
Doug Sprecht is a Chartered Geographer (CGeog. FRGS), a Senior Lecturer (SFHEA) and the Director of Teaching and Learning in the School of Media and Communication at the University of Westminster. His research examines how knowledge is constructed and codified through digital and cartographic artefacts, focusing on development issues in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, where he has carried out extensive fieldwork. He also writes and researches on pedagogy, and is author of the Media and Communications Student Study Guide
. He speaks and writes on topics of data ethics, development, education and mapping practices at conferences and invited lectures around the world. He is a member of the editorial board at Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture
, and the journal Anthropocenes – Human, Inhuman, Posthuman
. He is also Chair of the Environmental Network for Central America
Alexandra Ortolja-Baird is Lecturer in Early Modern European History at King’s College London