Francis Harvey, The Limits of Mapping: The Case of the Cadastral Infrastructure in Poland

Please join us in welcoming Dr. Francis Harvey as our final colloquium speaker of the quarter, as he speaks about The Limits of Mapping: The Case of the Cadastral Infrastructure in Poland.

Date: 3 December 2010

Where: Smith Hall 407

When: 3:30 – 5:00 p.m.

A small, informal reception will follow in Smith Hall 408.

In some rural areas of Poland, official records and maps of land property (cadastre) differ from the actual uses by up to 40% by area. The cadastral maps are more than limited: they may even be unusable, but the discrepancies go largely unnoticed. This is surprising geographically because of the importance of private property in liberal capitalist economies. Considering the broad relevance of the cadastre, I approach it as an infrastructure that serves key roles for the social coordination of state and private activities, distributed among various agencies and private companies.  The importance of these roles affords the cadastre great political significance. Although as a unified force in society it may not be very noticeable, the cumulative impact of its records and maps is vast. The realization of cadastral power arises mainly in many, mostly mundane, interactions among agencies and impacted people—or, in other words, as micropower.

The discrepancies in Poland form a conundrum for conventional understandings of the cadastre infrastructure’s roles. Following Western rationale thought on the role of government, if the discrepancies are considerable, the local economy and society must surely face disruptions and then the government should pursue corrective measures. However, in Poland no disruptions of note have taken place and government programs to support addressing changes following the transitions of 1989 and 2004 have been of little significance. Indeed, a number of NGO projects responding to these issues have not found adoption after initial funding ended.

In this presentation I draw on theories of governmentality, infrastructures, boundary objects, and mapping to examine how for the emergence of discrepancies and resolution of discrepancies in rural Poland which has been the focus of six years of research. After a theoretical, methodological, and contextual introduction, the presentation overviews two types of discrepancies:  discrepancies among agencies’ cadastral mapping and records and discrepancies between land cadastre and the land tenure, or formal and informal institutions to organize land access. cadastral maps’ power are limited and altered by the discrepancies, yet this constitutes no major systematic problem for governance. The presentation includes exploring the underlying processes,

On this framework, the presentation moves on to an analysis of cases in three parts of Poland that offer insights into the limits of rational state control and the abilities to organize its territory through mapping. The boundary object-based analysis considers multiple interactions among humans and non-humans as a process of negotiating access to land and the means of maintaining formal legal records and informal arrangements through a host of interactions ranging from court action to persistent subterfuge. In this setting, governance is evident in the localized performance of interactions finding a balance between the state sphere and rural residents’ sphere. Although technologies of modern mapping have been added to modernize the cadastre and facilitate a more accessible administration, the underlying discrepancies between formal records and informal practices remain. The presentation suggests that the continued acceptance of discrepancies across administrative agencies and Polish society reflects complex interactions in Polish society among political and economic elites and civil society. Cadastral infrastructure power is diffused, and often diminished, but never completely lost.


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