Presented by: Dr. Eduardo Romero Dianderas, USC

In recent years, anthropologists, sociologists and media theorists have generally examined political rule by grounding modes of governance in the immanent materiality of technical and bureaucratic media such as files, maps and digital databases. In this presentation, Dr. Dianderas argues that anthropological analysis can move beyond this framework to consider how political struggles take place in relation to transcendental realms of experience that cannot be reduced to specific forms of materiality. Georeferentiation, the process of retracing old paper maps in digital space through the use of GPS devices and GIS software, is a privileged terrain to observe such subtle modes of political engagement. At a time when climate change mitigation strategies are driving major investments into Indigenous land titling, it shows how mathematical abstractions such as angles, points, distances and areas have become unexpected terrains of political struggle where different actors dispute the terms over which old paper-based polygons are to be redrawn in the global mathematical grid of UTM geographic coordinates. Importantly, it shows how such struggles take place in ways that participate but are ultimately irreducible to any specific instantiation of polygons in either paper property maps, digital databases or more-than-human landscapes. By thinking through polygons, Dr. Dianderas interrogates emerging forms of Indigenous territoriality in Peruvian Amazonia and the contentious politics that arise as global environmental governance accelerates the urge to render tropical rain forests into spaces of digital transparency and accountability.

Eduardo Romero Dianderas is the 2022-2023 Mellon Sawyer Postdoctoral Fellow in the Politics of Environmental Knowledge at the University of Southern California’s Center on Science, Technology & Public Life and Center for Latinx and Latin American Studies. He holds a PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology from Columbia University and specializes in the study of media technologies, Indigenous territorialities, and global environmental governance. His book manuscript, Calculating Amazonia: the politics of calculative abstractions in Peru’s tropical rainforest governance, examines how technical knowledge about tropical rainforests is rearticulated today as Amazonia enters the age of climate change and biodiversity loss. Drawing on 24 months of intensive ethnographic and archival fieldwork and more than 10 years conducting research in Peru’s Amazonian rainforests, Calculating Amazonia traces how different practices and objects of technical calculation become unexpected terrains of political struggle at a time when emerging modes of global environmental governance advance sophisticated technical procedures, digital innovations and legal reforms upon tropical rainforest governance. His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and the Explorer’s Club.

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