Pitfall #3: Forming Extractive Relationships

Oftentimes, when academics create maps, we extract information from the communities we attempt to “explain” without ever actually ameliorating the conditions we are allegedly working to fight. As a research process, this is unjust and extractive, especially when we are given large grants to do this work. The more that we use our money to buy fancy mapping software and only allow professionally skilled people to create maps as academic accolades, the more that we are failing our mission. 

From an outsider’s perspective, this visualization of health services created by a collaboration between the University of Michigan-Flint, Americorps, and the City of Flint appears to be doing just that. 

Moving forward… A map should only be made if the “target group” that the map seeks to explain or help wants the map to be made. Where interested and possible, these people should also be involved in the process of constructing the maps. AKA: Give the people the opportunity to do the project themselves.

Moving forward… If a group truly consents to being mapped, whoever is providing the core of the research should set the terms of the agreement and be given first authorial line. When there is an external mapmaker participating in the process, they should be seen as secondary, and reflect publicly on any editorial decisions they have made in the process. AKA: Give the people control over how the project is managed.

Moving forward… If you’re getting $3000 to do a mapping project about a pressing community problem, $2500 of that better go wherever the community in question wants it. There is no just art and no just research which “provide[s] an insight that explains certain experiences” without working to “prevent someone from dying” (Tuhiwai Smith, 1999). AKA: Give the people the money you got in your grant.

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