Event — Online Conversation on Academic Ontologies

Mapping as Research Strategy

In this HAB online conversation session of the Academic Ontologies series, the HAB and IIAS Fellowship programmes invite Min Tang, Anitha Silvia, and Omar Rodriguez to share their experience using maps as a research strategy in Mumbai (India), Surabaya (Indonesia), and Mexico City (Mexico), respectively.

This event takes place online via Zoom from 14:30 until 16:00 p.m. Amsterdam Time (CEST).

Please register via the web form on this page, and we will send you the link to the Zoom meeting.


About the Academic Ontologies platform

Academic Ontologies is an online conversation series initiated for students and early career scholars, by the Humanities Across Borders (HAB) and the IIAS Fellowship programmes of the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), Leiden, The Netherlands.  

With this online platform, we offer an open space for the coming together of a transdisciplinary, online network for sharing intersectional, multi-lingual narrative research and teaching strategies for a next generation of scholarship. We acknowledge the constraints of hegemonic discursive formats as barriers to knowledge production and dissemination in academia today. Our aim, therefore, is to draw attention to what has been left out, namely non-textual forms of expression, like storytelling (oral and visual), and embodied practice/performance, as legitimate modes of knowledge-making and learning.  

Last year, we discussed the narrative tools of storytelling and place-based belonging as discursive strategies for community enmeshed research. This year, we will focus on the practice of mapping, in its diverse articulations, in particular drawing, walking, and re-reading archival maps. Alternative cartography serves as a valuable resource for artists, scholars, architects and designers to craft maps that reveal hidden narratives and intricate connections between time, space to challenge conventional mapmaking practices and shed light on overlooked or overwritten histories of political and social violence in the making of cities.

Speakers and Abstracts

Popular cartography: Rethinking Mapping as Collaborative Knowledge production strategies

Speaker: Min Tang, Faculty, College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Tongji University, Shanghai 

International activists, architects, and urbanists have driven the growing 'counter-mapping' movement and its offshoots, appropriating mapping techniques to support marginal or indigenous communities' fight for land-centric rights. However, this talk focuses on the growing challenge of capturing more invisible, mobile, and makeshift inhabitation of youth across uneven urban spaces. It foregrounds the methodological question of how the heuristic research practices of mapping and ethnography operate together to co-produce such situated knowledge of/with the marginal youth, in and beyond the fieldwork. By critically reflecting on collaborative map-making and storytelling with young adults in Dharavi (Mumbai), it argues for mapping as an open-ended collaboration in which mappers’ various ‘finding’ and ‘founding’ acts to support the production of situated knowledge of an ever-shifting urban margin. The continuous efforts to make such knowledge visible is through re-reading, re-writing, and re-drawing acts. The method prompted by this experience is proposed as ‘popular cartography’. It aims to transcend mappers’ backgrounds, technical skills, and disciplinary biases, and offers a collaborative medium for expressing often overlooked, opaque or difficult-to-describe lived experiences.

Field photo of an inner open space in Dharavi, Mumbai. Credit: Min Tang

Mapping the daily rites of Kampung Plampitan

Anitha Silvia, cultural activist, member of Indonesia Netaudio Forum and Kwangsan Kunstkring, Surabaya 

Kampung Plampitan--an urban kampung in the heart of the major Indonesian port city of Surabaya—has a special location on the confluence of two historic rivers, Kali Mas and Kali Pegirian, Kampung Plampitan is a living witness to Surabaya's economy, political, social, and environmental ups and downs. Kampung Plampitan has the longest motorized vehicle-free alleys, this is an important finding considering that Surabaya has 2,909 million motorbikes and 501,370 cars with a population of 3 million people. With very limited archives and academic papers related to Kampung Plampitan, mapping the local knowledge and practices of Kampung Plampitan is significant for Surabaya's urban knowledge. Together with Kampung Palpitant residents, we map shade plants, residents' skills and talents, informal economy, food-related social activities, and residents' expressions across generations, religions, and ethnicities. We also learn how residents take care of the rivers, Kali Mas and Kali Pegirian; how they take care of the earliest resident’s tombs; and how they run top-down programs by the municipal government. The mapping activity triggers local action from the individual scale to collective actions through walking in groups, eating outdoors communally, drawing workshops, exchanging hand-written letters, karaoke-ing, and pilgrimage. 

Mblakrak Kali, a collective walk by Kampung Plampitan residents on the riverbank of Kali Mas, Surabaya. Credit: Anitha Silvia

Maps as projects. Imaginaries, practices and the creation of the Basin-Valley of Mexico

Speaker: Omar Rodríguez, Post-doc researcher in Environmental Humanities, Ca’ Foscari University, Venice 

The watershed of Mexico has been imagined and conceptualized in quit different ways, changing the representation of the city and the lake environment since indigenous codex, renaissance engravings to modern cartography. In this way, the changes in mapping could be seen as a longue durée history, studying the different epistemologies, and methodologies of depictions across the time, but also their particular ontologies with diverse conceptions about the society, the waterscape and the relationship between them. Therefore, these maps are conventional ones that offer an idealized and symbolic representation of the basin, at the same time that they have important practical implications, since they attempted to regulate what urban planning, the environment, and water management should be like. These images were developed by diverse social groups that offered different interpretations and projects for the city and the basin, so they were in dispute not only as competing imaginaries but for their respective practical implications. Nowadays, Mexico City has been clearly imposed over the waterscape, but the lack of sustainability of this relationship becomes increasingly evident and worrying. In this way, recovering the different visions developed historically on the relationship between the city and the aquatic environment could offer a valuable source of inspiration to imagine and project a more sustainable future for both the basin and the city.

A 3D recontruction of Tenochtitlan and a drone photograph of Mexico City.  Credit: Thomas Kole (3D reconstruction) and Andrés Semo (drone photograph)


Please register via the web form on this page, and we will send you the link to the Zoom meeting.