Decolonizing mapping practices for sustainable island futures

Etching of an unfinished condominium complex drowned under waves, two fishermen on small boats float on the bottom left of the scene.
'Nabilin' 34 cm x 26.5 cm etching by Cara Flores

More than just a speck on the map

On the Mercator projection of the world, the viewer’s eyes are drawn to the big continental land expanses that are centred. While a useful view from above, larger areas end up dominating the collective imagination of what and where represents the world. Smaller pieces of land, such as islands, become specks in the ocean and are either easily overlooked or seen as easy for the taking. Despite being visualised as a speck on a world map, islands are worlds in themselves, boasting diverse cultures, histories, and ontologies. While islands struggle to grapple with issues exacerbated by climate change, they are also seen as exemplary sites of resilience that can teach about adaptation in a changing climate.

How can we see islands are more
than a speck on the map?

This four-year PhD research project led by Cara Flores is a collaboration between Urban Futures Studio and Environmental Science that proposes an intervention in participatory mapping within small islands informed by decolonial theory. It seeks to create more plural representations of islands futures through joining different stakeholders to map island ontologies. This is with a focus on islands with colonial histories facing entanglements between not only a changing climate but the rise of tourism and neoliberal interest coming into conflict with local desires.

The project begins by critically reflecting on the coloniality of mapping practices and the extent to which this bias has overshadowed island representations. Then, it examines the tools, techniques, processes and tensions within mapping and how decolonial theory can better inform these practices. Through that, the goal is to co-design and collaborate on designing a mapping intervention in two island communities, culminating in a public exhibit and inter-island exchange.