Category Archives: Academic

Academic Outputs by Rupert Allan

Pioneering Community Open Mapping in the UK

Food Deserts and COVID disaster-mapping with Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOTOSM), NHS Wales and Missing Maps/MSF.

A pioneer collaboration between Merthyr Tydfil communities, HOTOSM/Missing Maps and the National Health Service. Community-led data to map determinants of disease vulnerability. Reconnecting the NHS with its communities in the birth-place of the NHS (and of the Labour Party).

Community-Mapping Wider determinants of Wellbeing, Community Assets and Disaster Resilience

We adapted Motorcycle Mapping methods previously used with Medecins Sans Frontieres, Red CrossUNHCR, UNDP, IOM, UNICEF, Uganda Ministry of Health, CDC, Sierra Leone Ebola Outbreak and West Africa Motorcycle Mapping.

OpenSource Ocean Navigation

United Statelessness and Counter-Mapping

Doctoral Research – decolonial navigation in the recycling culture of sea-farers: an exploration of cultural geographies and environmental ontologies in ocean punk-migrant citizenship

Associated Publication: Chapter 29: The Routledge Handbook of Geospatial Technologies and Society

This project embarks from the observation that ‘maps are never value-free images’ (Harley in Cosgrove and Daniels, 1988) and that when we map there are preconditions embodied within the process. Critical writers from David Harvey(1973) to Edward Said(1979, and 2000) clearly make the case that all traditional mapping is not only conditional but also colonial, and a technology of spatial and personal governance.

This study is fundamentally interested in the relation of language to technology and the approximations of legend intrinsic to it. Using collective mapping as a model, it is compelled by a critical discussion of humanitarian interventions which use digitally-enabled mapping apparatus to collaborate with – and in – the field. Humanitarian OpenStreetMap is one methodology of digital humanitarianism which is heralded as ‘democratic and emancipatory’, despite criticism of some, whose ‘effect on public participation is more limited’(Givoni; 2016, 15). Initially, this PhD seeks to question whether collective digital mapping dissipates or further enables an imperialist mode, exploring specific mitigations for the Missing Maps project not only because of its reliance on hermaneutics, even affect at both ends of the technological interaction, but because the ‘shapeshifting’ toolkit used is dictated by field-specific demands (lo-tech and hi-tech). Cultural Geographers studying ‘geosophy’ (Wright; 1947) have long considered maps as socially constructed and ‘embedded in specific social contexts of production [and use]’ (Glasze and Perkins; 2015, 144). However, the passing of authorship and method into the public domain creates this phenomenon in the plural. It resets the psycho-geographic parameters, and evokes new suggestions about the speed and power of how reciprocal understandings of space work.

The PhD aims to apply this ontology of collective mapping and its determinants to a contested space – the sea. The sea is used because it is fluid; a socially constructed space, whose changeable landscape features are supplemented by technological, mythological and legal descriptors. It is also a common space whose conception, navigation, and innovation can be assessed from multiple cultural perspectives. By investigating this act of visualisation in a culturally abstracted setting, it will be possible to analyse close readings of the ways people ‘produce’ passage and negotiate cultural imaginaries or ‘legends’ within the spaces they project.

The research considers how people ‘(re)produce certain geographies and thus social realities’ (Glasze and Perkins, 2015; 143). Literary criticism suggests an instructional influence of common literary tropes or narratives, such as heroic quest, adventure, discovery, utopia, wilderness, the sublime on lived experience (Frye; 1958, Olderman; 1972, Dundes; 1965). Examples on the sea include personal accounts of navigations influenced by those who Conrad calls ‘knights-errant of the sea’ (1896, 3), accounts whose factual and technical approximation are an acknowledged theme of the ‘unreliable maritime text’.

The claim of the thesis is that the ideologies and cultural ‘truths’ projected onto the synthetic reality known as a map can be identified as properties of comparative cultural discourses, with traceable origins in literary text, behaviour and form. It will seek to establish the extent and influence of such tropes on design solutions in crisis settings. By comparing examples from differing cultural traditions it will explore the potential of cultural mythology to augment technological innovation. The work will consult approaches to mapping/populating the sea from contrasting economic, political and social viewpoints. The intention is to expose common systems of signification implicit in technical innovation through the specific technique of making maps. It will seek self-conscious examples of ‘materialising ideas’ of Utopia within technological change, and gain insight from cultural approaches acknowledged to identify with technological reform..

The humanitarian field is an environment in which representation, negotiation of terms, and practice of codes can be as critical as it is on the sea. By demonstrating the process of meaning-making through this abstracted mapping process, the case study aims to explore the dependence of scientific exactitude upon cultural form, and the impact of creative collaboration on humanitarian crisis technology.

Mapping Land Voices – the National Library Sound Archive

Mapio Lleisiau’r Tir / Mapping Land Voices – August 2021

Stories of the forest sound archives: 

Who knew that there were crofts hidden in the hills of my next-door village in Wales? I didn’t until very recently, when we started listening to the British Library/National Library of Wales sound archives collection.

Dai Morgan, the Horse-Boy

I mean sure, Dai Morgan used to lean on the garden fence between our houses and tell me stories about running away with the mountain ponies when he was a young horse-boy. So near-by and yet, in another village. Dai used to point over towards the north side of the Ystwyth Valley and, conspiratorially, quietly say, ‘they’re different, those people. North Wales, you see. They think differently’. Less than a mile away. 

Dai also told me a story once, about when he had been a Gwas (households had several of these ‘farm servants’) as a lad. He was a horse-boy, and was fascinated with the personalities and breeds of the mountain ponies, which, he said, were four types, which never interbred. He was convinced of this, saying that the original Cardiganshire ponies were russet, yellow and grey, all with white flashes on head and hoof. One day, he was in a far field of the farm in Bont, when the wild horses came down to the fenceline. Dai managed to coax one close and jump on. It bolted and he clung to its bare back, as the whole group of them ran back into the mountains. On and on they ran throught the night, until they came to a small upland stand of trees by a deserted stream and suddenly stopped.

‘It was their home’, Dai explained. ‘I was able to jump off, but it took me hours to walk back, through the night, and I just arrived in time to dodge trouble and do the milking at 5am.’

The sound of ‘Aelwydd’
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I can see it now in these crofts. They had a local perspective. And even though hill-people were mobile – many even lived away for a few years and worked in London – that was most certainly a foreign migration, reminding me of the London Kurds or Portuguese. 

When they were back on their lands, it was exotic, too, for Nant Stallwen to marry into ‘Llew Goch’ (meaning: the family running the pub in Bont). It was 10 miles away, if that. Such households were known as communities in their own right, and would turn up to events as an geographical entity – Nantrwch (stream of the sow), Maesglas (blue field).

Sketch of a Daydream
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

We’re listening to these interviews whilst we sit and draw. Mountain voices. Some coughing, laughing, straying from the question. It’s a very wild but intimate feeling as the rain speckles your face and you imagine similar tactile experiences in this space 60 years ago. 

Interpretation of Tom Morgan’s description of life in the Crofftau (Rupert Allan – YouTube)

When Peggy Maesglas from (Soar y Mynydd) was diagnosed with Hiraeth as a boarding school pupil in Tregaron, her family left the farm-hands running the farm ‘household’ and moved down to town to give her the support she needed. These were close communities, and Peggy also remembers that Nant Stalwen farm would have two or three thousand sheep shearing, and over 100 horses would be gathered, as all the shearers from the hill farms around – men and boys – would muck-in. 

When chapel was on, and the preacher visiting for the weekend, again there were horses. Hundreds of them, grazing the near bog. As well as a chapel which was taken to Bala on the back of a lorry,Tom Bronant tells of breaking the ponies in record time by doing on the deep bog, where they would tire much quicker than back in the lowlands. 

Tom’s recollections of Caio Evans leading the Free Wales Army on horseback manouevres up on the Devils Staircase and around Llyn Brianne are coupled with tales of all the ‘bois’ grabbing a lorry in the middle of the night in Tregaron, and coming up to sing outside Nant Llwyd, to see off a bride-to be. They turned up some time after midnight, and even the dogs were scared by the noise! The lights at the farm went on, the doors opened, and they were welcomed in to party forester-style into the small hours.

And ‘Nant Llwyd’, as a household, were legendary, with family and gwasau (farm-hands) comprising a formidable force when it came to horsemanship and community events. But it was Peggy Maesglas who features as the ‘man vs horse’ competition champion, and known for the finest horsemanship in the area, she could get back from Tregaron to Soar in less than an hour, if she hurried. 

The reputation of Caio, and his character, are easily forgotten these days, As is the very comprehensive threat which the FWA implied for Westminster. Caio’s leadership and physical presence comes across in different accounts, though, and he was clearly universally admired – almost like (and contemporaneous with) Che Guevara. Organised and agile, his well-put-together group seems revered as a not inconsiderable guerilla force. And the hills, unroaded but easily-navigated by skilled horsemanship, must have presented an important dilemma for the antiquated machinery of a threadbare post-war english task force.

One of the independent flags of Wales, at Castell y Bere (CC BY 4.0)

These landscapes are boggy and hard to navigate. But roads – even tracks – were less important when you consider that everybody had a horse which could graze the mountain grass. Free fast transport for everybody. And Peggy Maesglas says that the roads that the forestry brought in destroyed the communities. The sound archive research continues next month, with Stories of the Forest from Soar y Mynydd and Nant Doethie.

‘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.

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 do not exist in resource poor settings, and even where they do, 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.

To see how this technology adapts to ground-breaking community-mapping of COVID Vulnerability and Food Deserts in deprived areas of the UK, follow THIS LINK.

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

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.