Lab header image with white text "Critical Geospatial Research Lab" against a background image of a river delta. The background image has a glitch effect, with displaced and discolored pixels.
Landsat 8 image adapted from USGS (2016)
The Critical Geospatial Research Lab at Dartmouth College explores how geospatial data, media, and technologies can reflect, further, and even challenge differential axes of power. Through an approach that prioritizes collaboration, we apply a critical lens to simultaneously analyze existing geospatial infrastructures and advance new research practices that are theoretically rich and grounded in frameworks of justice.


Research Areas

Global map with multi-colored flows connecting global manufacturing firms.

Digital Political Economy


This area of research encompasses various projects that bring a political economic lens to digital technologies, with particular attention to the spatial dimension. These projects explore questions such as the creation of new digital markets, the legal frameworks for the commodification of data, and the economic geographic impacts of new technologies such as autonomous vehicles and small and micro satellites. Through a critical perspective that combines various methods and theoretical approaches, we are interested in shedding light on how digital technologies contribute to shape spaces,  how spaces are continuously shaped by these technologies, and who has power over these processes.
Tilemaps displaying Google Street View and Mapillary Coverage in World Cities. There are two charts stacked on top of each other, one representing Google Street View coverage and the other representing Mapillary coverage. The charts are grids, where each row is a city and each column represents a road type. The cells are colored based on Mapillary/Google Street View coverage, with darker colors representing higher coverage. The Google chart is more darkly colored, with most cities well covered with the exception of cities in India, China, and the Dominican Republic. The Mapillary map is lightly colored across most of the cities, with the exception of major roadways.

Critical GIS


Geospatial data, media, and technologies are being used at unprecedented levels and in increasingly complex contexts, directly and indirectly impacting our everyday lives. Power structures are encoded within these data and technologies, which shapes differential, uneven, and unjust spatial geometries. We use and analyze geospatial tools to address questions of power and difference across a range of areas. Through this work, we aim to unsettle, disrupt, and reimagine dominant approaches to open data, remote sensing, map design, and spatial justice.
Screenshot of a scrollytelling map of wool production in 1845. Map shows the northeast United States with the Erie Canal and Ohio Canal highlighted.

Visual Storytelling


Maps and geospatial data like satellite imagery saturate digital journalism. Despite the ubiquity of mapping in journalism, we know little about the politics and processes of their creation, how they have changed over time, and the broader impact of news maps o on our understandings complex spatial stories. Drawing our backgrounds in data journalism and critical mapping, we explore the everyday processes for mapping the news as well as the everyday encounters with news maps.




Publications


Media & Outreach


Publications 


Media & Outreach


Publications


Media & Outreach

People

Luis F. Alvarez León

Director

2020–present



Luis F. Alvarez León (Ph.D., UCLA 2016) is an Assistant Professor of Geography at Dartmouth College. He is a political economic geographer with substantive interests in geospatial data, media, and technologies. His work integrates the geographic, political, and regulatory dimensions of digital economies under capitalism with an emphasis on technologies that manage, represent, navigate, and commodify space. Ongoing research projects examine the geographic transformations surrounding the emergence of autonomous vehicles and the industrial and geopolitical reconfigurations resulting from the proliferation of small satellites.

Research Areas 

Critical GIS, Economic Geography, Digital Economy

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Website



Janice Chen




Research Assistant




2020–present

Janice Chen is a cartographer and writer interested in using maps to visualize spatial processes, or the ways unique geographies are produced by structural forces. Most recently, her work explores how rural landscapes are shaped by pastoral ideals and the complex political economies of agriculture. She is a recent graduate of Dartmouth College. At Critical Geospatial, she is currently perusing maps in news media and exploring the politics of remote sensing.

Research Areas 

Critical GIS and Visual Storytelling

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Website

Twitter



Park Muhonda




Postdoc Researcher  




2021–present

Park Muhonda (Ph.D., West Virginia University 2019) is a geographer with interest in multidisciplinary research, employing a mixed methods approach – geospatial analysis, qualitative and quantitative methods. Recently, his research has focused on understanding how people in rural areas are exposed to specific shocks in Malawi, Uganda, Ethiopia, Niger and Bangladesh. His PhD dissertation (West Virginia University, 2019) takes a political ecological approach to understand socioeconomic and political conditions that underlie differential livelihoods vulnerability to climate and economic change in rural Malawi. Park is current working with Dr. Luis Alvarez León on a project that uses a combination of geospatial analysis and just transition analysis to understand the spatial and socio-economic dimensions and implications of energy transition. Park did his MSc in Integrated Water Resources Management. He also worked as a project manager at the Church and Society Programme.

Research Areas 

Critical GIS, Political Ecology, Energy

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Meghan Kelly




Postdoc Researcher




2021–present

Meghan Kelly (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin 2020) works at the intersections of mapping, feminist theory, and digital storytelling. She applies feminist principles across spatial data, map design, and mapping processes to reveal and challenge systems of power and oppression. This often takes place in collaborative workshop settings. She has applied this feminist mapping lens to migration stories, border symbolization, tiny map icons, incarceration and policing, the climate crises, and housing insecurity. She is currently exploring the role of maps in digital storytelling, feminist map symbolization, and ethics in GeoAI.

Research Areas

Feminist Mapping, Critical GIS, Visual Storytelling, and Critical GeoAI

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News & Events


Meghan Kelly

Mapping Bodies, Designing Feminist Icons (Publication)

April 7, 2021

Bodies are nuanced, fluid, and political—often combining forms of intersecting and experiential identities. Nevertheless, bodies are frequently missing from maps altogether or, when they are included on maps, they are reduced to points, lines, and polygons. Focusing on iconography, I explore the depiction of bodies in map symbolization through a feminist lens. I apply a feminist semiotic analysis to thirty-eight Maki icons to problematize the ways in which bodies are depicted, abstracted, or erased. I analyze icon symbolization, particularly the presence/absence of bodily forms, the presence/absence of an embodied object, and the icons’ iconicity. My feminist analysis reveals the underlying silences, defaults, and power dynamics within the Maki icon set. I call mapmakers to rethink the depictions of bodies in icons—and the role of “universal” icon sets, more broadly—through a feminist lens. I offer design opportunities as a starting point for such an endeavor.

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Luis F. Alvarez León

Towards Computational Praxis for Social Justice (Panel)

April 7, 2021

Through this panel, we will explore questions such as: How can we use computational methods and digital technologies to measure, map, and challenge various forms of inequality and injustice? How can computational methods and digital technologies be disentangled from the infrastructures of state and financial power that reproduce social, economic, and spatial injustice? How can we use computational methods and digital technologies to develop alternative visions of the future that challenge the dominant systems of power and exploitation?

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Luis F. Alvarez León

Towards Global Justice in Digital Geography (Panel)

April 9, 2021

Worldwide calls for racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement have put into sharp focus the urgency of explicitly centering these issues in digital geography. A growing body of work embraces feminist and decolonial approaches to digital geography (Elwood and Leszczynski 2018; Thatcher et al. 2016), and directly addresses the roles of digital geographies in processes of racialized surveillance and policing (Jefferson 2018). However, it is clear that much more work needs to be done to truly reckon with racial injustices across the globe, and to understand and challenge their digital geographic expressions. Beyond the academy, High Country News’ Land-Grab Universities map interrogates the ways in which stolen indigenous land enriches the very institutions in which many geographers conduct their work. This project highlights the potential of digital tools and geographic perspectives to explicitly address racial injustices, even (or perhaps especially) when these force scholars to grapple with their own role in these processes of exclusion and domination. In this context, creative and committed work towards global justice is an urgent task for digital geography.

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Meghan Kelly


Feminist Collectively Designing Icons, Feminist Vocabularies for Map Design (Presentation)

April 9, 2021

Mapmakers and designers typically emphasize clarity, legibility, alignment, brevity, consistency, aesthetics, and ease of use in the design iconography. Conventional wisdom in icon design, however, neglects feminist design principles that reject universality, challenge power, and situate design. Recent work in feminist icon design explores the depiction, abstraction, and erasure of bodies in icon symbolization and provides a framework for redesigning icon sets like the Mapbox Maki library. In this paper, I facilitate a series of workshops based on this framework for feminist icon design where designers used sketch mapping techniques to redesign the Maki icon set, one icon at a time. I collate the icon sketches across the workshops and analyze the impacts of feminist principles on their designs. Based on my findings, I argue that a feminist framework for icon design disrupts conventional and universal approaches to icon design. Further, the icons curated in this paper seed the beginnings of a feminist icon set gallery. In sum, feminist perspectives generate alternative graphic vocabularies for icon design and expand possibilities for feminist map design, more broadly.

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Meghan Kelly


Feminist Mapping Panel: Past, present, and futures

February 26, 2021

In this workshop, I will introduce a feminist mapping framework that can be applied to spatial data, map design, and mapping workflows. I’ll illustrate seven feminist principles within this framework through a series of examples. Next, we will collectively explore the feminist mapping framework through a series of hands-on sketch mapping activities. Throughout this workshop, we will uncover the possibilities for feminist mapping with real-world data while reflecting on our own positions as mapmakers.

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Luis F. Alvarez León

Ethical Spatial Analytics

February 9, 2021

Luis Alvarez León with Mia Bennett (University of Hong Kong) discuss the ethical implications and property regimes of remote sensing. 

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Janice Chen



The Pudding Cup

January 2021
Janice receives  Honorable mention for The Pudding Cup: The Best Visual and data-driven stories of 2020 for her visual essay, Milk Country: The Making of Vermont’s Landscape.

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