The last year in India was full of scams, corruption charges, leaked telephone conversations, privacy debates, and protests against farcical court judgements. And all that made me think how ‘immapancy’, a lack of geographic knowledge, plays a deep role in facilitating corruption and scams, in preserving secrecy. The term ‘immapancy’ has been put into action recently by Kai Krause in his wonderful visual outrage against the distorted cartographic portrayal of the continent of Africa. Krause’s definition of ‘immapancy’ as “insufficient geographical knowledge”, however seems insufficient. Geographies and geographic knowledge are produced through social (and political) processes — so are unknown-geographies and lack-of-geographic-knowledge.
In Karnataka, the state where Bangalore is located, portions of land acquired by state agencies for public purpose regularly got de-notified (that is no longer property of the state) for the last decades and without fail got handed over to people who were close to the then ruling party. The trick is this: construct a building (illegaly) on public land, then influence the government to de-notify the land, show government that you already have a building on the land and ask for the land. The government fines you (a small amount compared to real land price) for having an illegal building, but gives you the land because of the building. Thus immapancy operates as a legal umbrella, under which the illegal construction is done (no records maintained for illegal construction in public land), and as the umbrella is removed whatever is on the ‘map’ become legal.
Immapancy also happens in other forms — such as where geographic relation substitutes for causal relation (like saying “X has been in Afghanistan, so s/he must be a terrorist”). Binayak Sen, a most distinguished doctor working in tribal areas of Eastern India, has been charged for ‘sedition’ for being an alleged messenger for a member of a ‘seditious organisation’ whom he was treating in jail. To a large extent the court judgement for his life imprisonment has been based on the fact that he has been in the same prison cell as the ‘seditious leader’ for 33 times. The lack-of-knowledge about the activities that actually happened at the place concerned, was converted into sufficient evidence for the judgement (much like in Afghanistan!).
Recently, Nick Turse and Tom Engelhardt talked about the immapancy of overseas US military bases, while demilit dedicated a week to sustainable secrecy and city as battlespace. Bryan Finoki led the charge with speculations on the future of designed immapancy with environmental design getting subsumed by a super-secret governmental project to create “operational landscape of secrecy”. This ‘architecture of sustainable secrecy’ will provide a physical location for secret government offices can function without producing any visual (solar panels diverting light), ecological (zero environmental impact) or informational (research on ‘green secrecy’ resold to citizens as green solutions) traces. So how do one reverse all these attempts to produce immapancy and secrecy? By mapping them of course. Here is a fantastic story of MIT hackers fighting against immapancy of a CIA office using superb old media tactics:
Several decades ago, the CIA decided to establish an office in Cambridge near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology…. [And there happened a series of wonderful disruptions.] The last straw, however, was the giant banner that appeared outside the (impossible to open) windows of the floor above the CIA office. It read “CIA Here” in three-foot-high red letters, with arrows pointing down. The next week, they packed up and left. The CIA hasn’t tried establishing an office near MIT since.
So next time you come across a place with suspiciously little environmental impact, ask yourself “why didn’t the dog bark?”.
Cross-posted from Pop Up City. Originally published on January 22, 2011.