STS Circle at Harvard
Tom Özden-Schilling, MIT, HASTS on "Expertise in Exile: Indigenous GIS and the Precariousness of Professionalization"
Lunch is provided if you RSVP.
Please RSVP via our online form before Thursday morning, January 29.
Abstract: Prevailing characterizations of Indigenous mapping expertise, and of “traditional knowledge” more generally, as highly localized, experiential, and unproblematically embedded within static systems of social organization obscure the increasing formalization and movement of expertise between Indigenous groups. During the 1990s, the Gitxsan, an Indigenous people in British Columbia, Canada, gained global attention for using creative and ambitious digital mapping projects to challenge colonial jurisdiction over their lives and landscapes. In the years since, many of these cartographers and GIS specialists have become estranged from key Gitxsan leaders, accused of enjoying increased professional mobility without remaining “loyal” to the broader communities left indebted by these formative projects. Largely ostracized from mainstream Gitxsan politics and traditional governance institutions, many of these experts have built careers elsewhere, forging temporary institutional bonds, and navigating changing demands of technical competence, professional ethics, and Indigenous “authenticity.” Drawing on ethnographic work conducted in, and in between, these ever-changing settings, this talk will explore the unequal costs Indigenous experts and marginal communities must bear to enter networks of technocratic power.
Biography: A doctoral candidate in the History, Anthropology, and STS program at MIT, Tom Ozden-Schilling's research explores the consequences of institutional change for rural expertise and environmental politics in northern North America. Drawing on ethnographic work with communities of forest ecologists and GIS technicians tracking long-term forest succession changes on the Gitxsan First Nation's traditional territories in northwest British Columbia, Tom investigates how the design and implementation of automated remote sensing technologies has altered forestry science, regional governance, and Indigenous sovereignty claims. Focusing on the roles played by the visual media produced through counter-mapping and forest succession and tree disease modeling work, Tom's research asks how technoscientific artifacts and archives are changing the dynamics of professional succession, particularly in increasingly precarious institutional settings like government resource ministries and First Nations environmental management offices.