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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.


Photo by K15 Photos on Unsplash

Doug Specht


Dr Doug Specht is a cultural geographer and educationalist. His research explores themes related to environmental justice, human rights, and access to education, with a focus on the production and codification of knowledge though cartographic artefacts and in educational settings. In recognition of his work, he has been appointed as a Chartered Geographer and Chartered Teacher. In addition, he has been awarded Advanced Teacher Status, alongside being a Senior Fellow of AdvanceHE. Dr. Specht has authored numerous articles and books, including Mapping Crisis, the Routledge Handbook of Geospatial Technology and Society, the Media and Communications Student Study Guide and Imagining Apocalyptic Politics in the Anthropocene. He writes regularly on ethics, environmental and human rights, education, and mapping practices in such publications as WonkHE, The Conversation, Geographical, and for Times Higher Education. Dr Specht is a member of the editorial board of the European Journal of Geography, Westminster papers in Communication and Culture, and Anthropocenes – Human, Inhuman, Posthuman. He is Chair of the Environmental Network for Central America.


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