Digital Geographies

Digital territories: Google maps as a political technique in the re-making of urban informality

This article examines the mobilisation of spatial media technologies for digitally mapping informal settlements. It argues that digital mapping operates politically through a re-configuration of circulation, power, and territorial formations. Drawing on Stuart Elden’s understanding of territory, where space is ‘rendered’ as a political category, the coming together of digital mapping and the geoweb is uncovered as a political technique re-making territory through computational logics – operating as a calculative practice that, beyond simply representing space, is productive of the political spatiality that characterises territory. The article is based on an analysis of recent attempts by ICT corporates, particularly Google, to map favelas in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, critically examining the claim that digitally mapping informal settlements is a mechanism for socio-economic inclusion. Providing a counterargument to claims around the power of digital maps to incorporate favelas, provide recognition, legitimacy, visibility and citizenship, we discuss how in the interface between digital and urban worlds, territory as a political space is constructed through economic incorporation. In doing so, the article unpacks the spatial politics of digital and smart urbanisms and the emerging sovereignties of digital territories, particularly in the context of the tension between inclusion and exclusion experienced by those who live in informal settlements in cities in the global South.

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Volume 37 Issue 3