Maps, Metaphors, and Meanings: Boundary Struggles and Village Forest Use on Private and State Land in Malawi

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"Recent studies have begun to closely examine social and cultural perceptions of spatial relationships, with particular attention to contests over boundaries. Counter mapping has emerged as a technique to represent local claims, but this approach creates tension between efforts to empower social groups and recognition that Western cartographic methods may inadequately represent complex socio-spatial ideas among non-Western peoples. Specifically, whereas recent studies emphasize contests over the legitimacy or location of boundaries, this paper presents case studies from Malawi illustrating equally important non -territorial contests over the meanings , the de facto rules and practices of boundaries. Complex strategies, embedded in local history and culture, have emerged involving efforts to untie resource rights from territorial claims. These strategies, which effectively seek to create a kind of de facto commons for specific resources on private and state land, would be poorly represented or even obscured by mapping efforts focused on (re-)drawing linear boundaries. This suggests a need for critical examination of the use of mapping and map metaphors in social analysis and practice."



IASC, common pool resources, mapping, boundaries, land tenure and use, social organization, village organization, conflict