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The Technopolitics of Mapping Dar es Salaam: An examination of the technological and political motivations of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team

A Research Paper by Doug Specht, published by Espacio, Tiempo Y Forma. Serie VI. Geografía

Mapping has long formed a key part of development work, from recording household surveys, participatory mapping exercises, and PRA projects. Now though the sector is full of new actors- mapping and tech companies as well as NGOs- monitoring through drones and satellite images, alongside employing more traditional methods. Many of these new players were born from NGOs and companies who started as ‘crisis mappers. Short-term ‘crisis mapping’ projects have become a regular part of humanitarian response following a disaster. The short-term nature of such actions, and the need for stable employment/profits, has led to an increasing trend for the same organizations and companies to either remain on the ground producing maps or to move into new areas as part of a pre-emptive mapping practice, inserting themselves into the wider international development ecosystem. This research, centered on Tanzania, examines how HOTOSM has attempted to pivot towards working as a development organization that creates maps for prevention of crisis, but also wider socio-economic outputs. The research used interviews to explore the interplay between technology and micro/macro politics around the mapping of Dar es Salaam. Examining how HOTOSM its role, and how they position their map-making within the context of Dar es Salaam. Findings suggest that HOTOSM is still underdeveloped as an organization and lacks the maturity to create true participatory models of working.


Doug Specht


Doug Specht is a Chartered Geographer (CGeog. FRGS) and a Senior Lecturer (SFHEA) at the Communication and Media Research Institute, within the University of Westminster. His research examines how knowledge is constructed and codified through digital and cartographic artefacts, focusing on development issues, and he has written on this subject in numerous books and papers. He has also spoken on topics of data ethics 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 sits on BSi committee IST/36 Geographic Information, where he focuses on geographic data in the SDGs. Doug is additionally a trustee of the Santa Rosa Fund, an educational charity; and a core member of the Environmental Network for Central America.


19 November 2021
Published By
Espacio, Tiempo Y Forma. Serie VI. Geografía
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