Power of Maps: (Counter) Mapping for Conservation


  • Leila M. Harris Department of Geography and Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Helen D. Hazen Department of Geography, University of Minnesota


protected areas, conservation, conservation mapping, cartography, political ecology, social natures, conservation biology, power, power asymmetries, mapping practices, mapping products, counter mapping


This paper considers what is at stake in defining and mapping protected areas for conservation. We link issues of power in cartography to themes from political ecology, social natures, and conservation biology literatures to extend our understanding of maps as reflective of, and productive of, power. Reviewing insights from these literatures to consider power asymmetries common to conservation practice, we highlight ways that mapping practices and products reinforce and contribute to such dynamics. Doing so enriches consideration of the power geometries of conservation cartographies by inviting fuller consideration of diverse species and landscapes, as well as enabling discussion of other representational and productive effects of conservation mappings. Once determined, how might conservation maps serve to naturalize certain spaces or boundaries as fixed, or contribute to certain socio-psychological understandings of conservation possibilities or outcomes? In the closing sections, we invoke the idea of ‘counter-mapping’ to explore strategies that might redress these concerns. Possibilities range from efforts to adapt the form of protected areas to more critical approaches that question the appropriateness of territorial focus and mapping practices for conservation goals. In conclusion, we argue that theorizing power in human, other-than-human, and inter-species contexts is essential to understanding the power geometries of conservation mapping.


How to Cite

Harris, L. M., & Hazen, H. D. (2015). Power of Maps: (Counter) Mapping for Conservation. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 4(1), 99–130. Retrieved from https://acme-journal.org/index.php/acme/article/view/730



Special Issue - Critical Cartographies