Category Archives: Academic

Academic Outputs by Rupert Allan

‘Modalities of United Statelessness’ Chapter 9 Abstract:

Book Launch: Monday, 14th September, 2020, Mapping Crisis: Participation, Datafication and Humanitarianism in the Age of Digital Mapping Edited by Doug Specht

To safeguard human lives quickly and effectively in humanitarian disasters, OpenStreetMapping (OSM) interventions generate life-saving maps whilst placing the governance and authorship of the field data into the hands of the communities where it originated. 

Institutional data often does not exist in resource poor settings, and even where it does, hyper-local ‘expertise’ of citizen-generated data has an argued advantage of ‘trustworthiness’ over this more formal top-down information.  (Muttaqien, Ostermann, Lemmens: 2018

Although OSM may hold the dynamic potential to radically connect the physical with the digital, linking ‘situated knowledge’ in communities (the ‘specific’) with humanitarian overviews (the ‘universal’), this does not justify the indiscriminate mapping of ‘every corner of Africa’ simply for its own sake.

Exaggerated trust in new technology, too, can sometimes turn out to be dangerously ‘techno-colonial’, and actually detrimental to the safeguarding of human life. Where useful interventional maps depend on well-chosen words, often simpler and more lo-fi solutions have a more measurable impact. 

Digitally-enabled mobile infrastructures can now prove highly resilient, refuting traditional assumptions linking mobility with ‘disadvantage’. Across cultures, demonstrations of chosen itinerance are beginning to query ‘digital realism’, imposing plural ontologies of ‘place’, re-visiting traditions of ‘language-code’ in which technology manifests as ‘taxonomy’. In this, ideas of ‘locale’ emerge more as process than place.

This chapter draws upon experiences of refugee-mapping using ‘local knowledge, local people, and local tech’, and on attempts to convey data in a way that universally translates. It will use field-derived perspectives to debate the multiple narratives which OSM mapping (and OpenDataKit tooling) enables.

Mapping Crisis book launch

Mapping Crisis: Participation, Datafication and Humanitarianism in the Age of Digital Mapping (University of London/Chicago Press, Human Rights Consortium) Editor: Doug Specht.

Who knew that a book about personal data ethics, track and trace, government handling of life-saving disaster mapping data would become so topical? 

Deo coaching new OSM members taken from surrounding neighbourhoods

My contribution is the final chapter, ‘Modalities of United Statelessness’: about bottom-up, ‘hyper-local’, community-owned motorcycle-mapping data in Uganda’s ongoing refugee crisis. Local Ugandans and international refugees together ‘wiki-mapped’ disease outbreak and social protection data, in the Congolese/South Sudanese refugee settlement areas. 

As members of the Ugandan Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, they adopted OpenStreetMap usernames. Then, using their own android phones, created a trailblazing resource of life-saving health, food, and water map data, now broadly used by UN, NGO, and Government emergency and development coordinators. 

Humanitarians being part of ‘the solution’, rather than part of ‘the problem’. 

Live Map Data
Live Map Data (Credit: Kobo Toolbox/Kobo Collect)

I argue  this valuable ‘Data Preparedness’ to be a solution to many pandemic issues, and this view seems borne out by Uganda’s excellent COVID-19 record to date.

Chapter Abstract Here: Modalities of United Statelessness

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I’d love if it got way beyond just academic community, as scholarship on the politics of representation and contemporary humanitarian ethics is scant, but really really important. 

I liked this bit of the blurb, finding it particularly topical for the current times:

‘….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.’

Book also available through Open Access.