Schröder-Bergen, Susanne; Glasze, Georg; Michel, Boris; Dammann, Finn (2021):
"De/colonizing OpenStreetMap? Local Mappers, Humanitarian and Commercial Actors and the Changing Modes of Collaborative Mapping." GeoJournal 87.6: 5051-5066.
Journal Article

In its early days, the geodata and mapping project OpenStreetMap (OSM) was widely celebrated for opening up and “democratizing” the production of geographic knowledge. However, critical research highlights that the new socio-technical practices of collaborative mapping often also produce or reproduce patterns of exclusion, not least in the area of relative data density between the Global South and North. These findings notwithstanding, we consider it important to acknowledge the increasing number of contributions of geodata from regions outside the old European core of OSM. This expansion of geodata production in OSM is related to a diversification of OSM actors and socio-technical practices. While OSM has often been described as a crowd-based project bringing together thousands of individual craft mappers, our analysis of OSM metadata indicates new institutional actors are gaining relevance. These developments have not only resulted in new collaborations but also conflicts between local mapping communities and institutional actors. We interpret these processes in two ways. First, the expansion of mapping activities can be viewed as a decolonizing process, whereby quantitative differences in data density between the Global North and South are partly reduced and new groups of local mappers are empowered to produce geographic knowledge. Second, these new developments can also be understood as colonizing processes. The engagement of large commercial actors in OSM raises concerns that the project (and its local mappers) could be used as a new means of data extraction and that in particular new and diverse voices in the OSM community are marginalized by a fixation on economically exploitable, modernistic and universalistic epistemologies. However, this supposedly clear distinction should not obscure the fact that colonizing and decolonizing processes intertwine in complex ways.