Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Geography, Indiana University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2006
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Energy and Resources Group, University of California / Berkeley
Orienting the Resource Landscape: Mapping and Upland Development in Lao PDR

How do changes in mapping affect what is "relevant" in natural resource-based development? Conversely, how do changing commitments to social and environmental issues affect the ways landscapes are investigated and known? This pair of questions describes tension between interpreting and intervening in landscapes whose resources are being increasingly expropriated by the practices of a neoliberal development apparatus that is increasingly being held to account for its social and environmental "externalities". My research investigates this dialectic between geographic knowledge and development practice by comparing two upland development projects in Lao PDR: a large hydropower scheme subject to social and environmental constraints imposed by a post-WCD (World Commission on Dams) World Bank; and a donor-funded attempt to use land allocation to govern the hard-to-see farmers, local government, and small capital that allegedly threatened Laos' national forest resource. Building on three preliminary research visits which developed a network of contacts in these Vientiane-based projects, I will use archival, interview and ethnographic research to investigate why carto-analysis was increasingly institutionalized into these projects, how it worked, and what its effects were. I argue that (1) these project embraced carto-analysis for opposing reasons: one to operationalize an expanded social and environmental mandate, the other to diffuse the potential harm of an increased social and environmental mandate that was imposed from outside; (2) the workings of carto-analytic practice turned on its ability ( or inability) to geographically fix and bound relevant social and environmental phenomena, and to marginalize that which was unfixable; and (3) despite differing levels of success in deploying carto-analytic practice, both projects continue to exert significant influence on the politics of hydropower- and forest-based development in Lao PDR.