In times of the pandemic, of social distancing and online conferences, our friend and fellow counter-cartographers at UFRGS, Porto Alegre, Brazil,1 invited Ângela Katuta and Pablo Mansilla Quiñones to discuss “Cartography as an Instrument of Emancipation.” Watch these inciting talks and debate on indigenous cartographies, collective mapping and different ways of being in the world in the embedded video (Portuguese), and/or read Sinthia Cristina Batista’s insightful reflection for Not-an-Atlas below (English or Portuguese).
Sinthia Cristina Batista / AGB – Porto Alegre
Doctor in Geography and professor at Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) / Campus Litoral Norte
Reviewed and translated to English by Theo Soares de Lima / AGB – Porto Alegre, Doctoral student of Geography (UFRGS)
The Association of Brazilian Geographers (AGB) is a national institution, of a political and academic nature, with almost 90 years of history. Throughout its trajectory, this entity constitutes itself as a space for political formation and the promotion of an engaged geography, which, from the beginning, has debated the relationship between geographic thinking, geographical ideologies, spatial practices and the relations between the state and popular social movements. AGB is characterized by its aspiration to create horizontal debates and constant dialogue with different social subjects that fight against inequality, misery and violence. Thus, it encourages geographers to take a political stand, and to state to whom their work and commitment is directed, in short, how they relate to society.
In pandemic times, many local sections of the AGB have articulated with different research groups to foster the debates that emerged, due to the conditions imposed by the health crisis, which, in turn, opened up the global economic and political crisis. Reinforcing this movement, the AGB – Section Porto Alegre, in partnership with the Territorial Conflict Studies Group (GECONTE), proposed a cycle of debates: ‘Geographies of R-existence’. GECONTE, formed within the scope of the Center for Geography and Environment Studies (NEGA), of the Department of Geography at UFRGS, counts with the participation of teachers, students and activists concerned with territorial conflicts and the mobilizations of different threatened communities in Latin America. Thus, in the sixth session of the Debate Cycle we discussed “Cartography as an instrument of emancipation”, together with geographer and professor Ângela Katuta, from UFPR – Litoral – Brazil, and geographer and professor Pablo Mansilla Quiñones, from PUC Valparaíso, Chile, the practice and theory of a cartography that commits to human emancipation. As a mediator of this debate, I dare say that the issues raised here draw other maps, which, respecting their particularities, share a sense of autonomy, freedom, justice and difference, capable of being realized in the production and collective use of space towards other possible geographies.
Pablo Quiñones2 has been working with indigenous cartography for a decade. In this debate, based on the reflection of producing alternative territories3, the concern is to think of strategies to deepen the territorial knowledge of the communities and also create other ways to dispute hegemonic territorial representations. His speech demonstrates how the neoliberal policies, adopted in Chile, profoundly transform the territories of the native people and, through the processes of accumulation by spoliation, disrupt these peoples’ community structures. But, at the same time, they show the unsustainability of the territorial ordering of capital, reflecting on the nation state’s structures and practices of power, and on the insurgency of different peoples in different territories.
It draws my attention when Pablo says that for the Wayuu people, from so-called Venezuela, the world is not made of objects, the world is made of subjects, so when Wayuu is talking about the territory thea are not only talking about a system of objects and actions, but imagine the world as constituted by a constant communication process of dialogues between subjects’. In particular, this means that territory is a constituent part of its people. If this territory is a woman subject, who has a face, a face and a corporeality referenced in the structure of the land, the territory is alive, it is life and it is diluted in the whole community and is, for its part, diluted by the community. It only exists as the territory of this people because it is this people.
The struggles mapped by the Mapuche people (who live in the border region of so-called Chile and Argentina), make explicit and denounce the disputes, the violence and the unfeasibility of dialogue with a political project based on the destruction of difference, the deterioration of common goods (such as the absurd privatization of water in indigenous lands), and the monopolization of power. These territorial experiences are mobilized in the mapping, and resume the history, culture and struggles that need to be fought in the resistance processes. The elderly, just as the children, are vital in these movements, since both are at the same time promoters of memory, guardians of knowledge and ancestral territories and creators of new worlds.
In the reading of Angela Katuta4, in these collective mapping processes, the insurgency of other cartographies unleashes the emergence of other geographies, that is, different ways of being and being in the world. In this sense, socio-territorial experiences are capable of breaking the syntaxes of structural hegemonic cartographies, problematizing the dubiousness of a language of domination or liberation. Katuta understands this language, as a social relationship which takes shape in the way we use it. Thus, if cartography is done “with” and not “for” it becomes a powerful instrument of territorial struggles. Consequently, it is necessary to expand the notion of “the map”, as already discussed by historians of cartography, as “any object that enables the understanding of other people’s space”. The widening of the understanding of maps, and of cartography, allows to consider the existence of other geographies that are still neglected in dominant educational processes and in academic discourse, and, thus do not allow to question the concrete references of the materiality of the world.
Therefore, the richness of the mappings conducted by geographers and militants of popular social struggles consists in the meeting between the different ways of being and being in the world, especially the recognition of these subjects and their territories. From the presentations of the sixth session of Geographies of R-existence, I understand that, for many of us, geographers and AGBans5, social disputes and conflicts strongly question the directions of humanity, the social, collective and political senses, produced historically, by men and women, in different times and modes of production and living. It highlights the dispute for different projects with disparate references in terms of understanding the world, justice, freedom, equality and society. Thus, pointing out the impossibility of reconciling not only ideas, but practices that destroy the human capacity to create, reflect, feel and produce other, multiple possibilities of life. These conflicts reveal not only a dispute over the control of a single and unequivocal path to follow, but a struggle against violence, oppression and inequality, which annihilate the infinite possibilities to humanize ourselves. This leads me to ask:
Do the different peoples, with whom we practice multiple cartographies, assume and understand the notion of territory as a lived dimension, elaborated and realized historically by their societies and cultures?
Or, do they live and understand the territory as a social relationship, historically realized as part of a process of spatial enclosure of peoples?
So, what do we need to face to transform this society in this historic time that we live in? Define other territories? Or radically question the geography of capital?
Is it possible to place, at the center of this debate, the content – theoretical and practical – of the notions of use, of possession, of the common good?
It may be that, for geography to face this debate, it is fundamental to recognize the need to produce knowledge capable of questioning the process of domination and spatial control that forges the land and the territory within capitalist private property.
That said, becoming aware that, historically, especially in the capitalist mode of production, cartography achieves something more than a technique of space design, it constitutes an important strategy of this process. It allows us to identify how, in different historical times, in different societies and in the current moment of hegemony (in a way of production centered on profit and on the realization of value), it assumes a central role in the search for the homogenization of social relations. I ask:
How is the appropriation of cartographic language, produced in this historical time, with the emergence of these “other cartographies”?
Are these cartographies completely dissociated from the concept of space, from the notion of territory and from the socio-spatial formation produced by the state and by capital?
How do these cartographies relate to the cartographies determined by geoprocessing programs and geographic information systems, which determine a formal representation in their appearance?
What does the explosion of systematic, incessant and widespread use of cartography mean?
Especially the mechanisms of situating and locating any and all spatial experiences?
What is the social and political content of the popularization of maps?
Could we, then, admit that cartography, as a language, produced by social relations and their spatial practices, would be, at the same time, a space of representation and the representation of space6, the representation of capitalist property and its negation?
If possible, I think, we need to deepen the investigation on the multiple determinations and strategies for the constitution of this representation of space: as commodity, as value and, at the same time, as resistance to this hegemonic process, revealing that space is, and can be, fruit of the insurrection of use: a common good socialized by those who need it and produce it.
1 See the counter-mapping events we organized together in Porto Alegre and Tramandaí in 2019, as well as the online map of solidarity-networks in the Litoral North region that we created with UFRGS geographers in early 2020, when the COVID-crisis first hit Rio Grande do Sul.
2 See references in debate: MELIN, Miguel; MANSILLA, Pablo; ROYO, Manuela. MAPU CHILLKANTUKUN ZUGU: Descolonizando el Mapa del Wallmapu, Construyendo Cartografía Cultural en Territorio Mapuche. And: QUIÑONES, Pablo Arturo Mansilla & PEHUEN Miguel Melin. A Struggle for Territory, a Struggle Against Borders. Journal NACLA Report on the Americas. Vol. 51, p. 41-48, 2019.
3 Notion elaborated by Rogério Haesbaerth, see the review about his book written by the geographer Ruy Moreira.
4 To know more about the author, see her doctoral tesis: KATUTA, A. M. O estrangeiro no mundo da geografia. 2003. Tese (Doutorado em Geografia) – Departamento de Geografia, Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas, Universidade de São Paulo. São Paulo, 2003.
5 Term used to designate one who belongs, or takes part, in the Association, AGB.
6 See the development of this tesis in: BATISTA, S. C. Cartografia geográfica em questão: do chão, do alto, das representações. 2014. 416 f. Tese (Doutorado) – Departamento de Geografia, Instituto de Geociências, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, 2014.