Over the past decade, the Bristol Bay region of southwest Alaska has been embroiled in a controversy over prospective mineral development in the headwaters of one of the world’s most vibrant salmon fisheries. Following the release of a state land-use plan whose maps appeared to promote large-scale mining in the region, a coalition of actors pursued a counter-mapping project, which drew on existing state data to restore priority to subsistence hunting, fishing, and gathering activities. In the contest over mining, maps and the data used to comprise them were created and contested by an array of actors, including indigenous groups, environmental organizations, and state and federal governments. Ethnographic research demonstrates how competing narratives took shape through vying efforts to empty out and fill up maps with representations of resources in the form of numbers based on scientific measurement. As quantification becomes the means through which environmental claims are staked, it reinforces the authority of scientific expertise at the same time it foregrounds other ways of knowing and establishing authority. The pursuit of numbers motivated various projects of adding together in Bristol Bay, including coalition building, which made space for alternative visions of and for the territory. The power of counter-mapping may lie less in the relationships it represents, then, and more in terms of those it helps create, insofar as it contributes to assembling new publics in opposition to resource-extractive designs.

Additional Metadata
Keywords Alaska, authority, Counter-mapping, number, quantification, scientific expertise
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.1080/09505431.2016.1223112
Journal Science as Culture
Hébert, K, & Brock, S. (Samara). (2017). Counting and Counter-mapping: Contests over the Making of a Mining District in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Science as Culture, 26(1), 56–87. doi:10.1080/09505431.2016.1223112