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(Un)Privileging the Map: A Community Collaboration in Understanding Economic Security

Fatima Koli
Columbia University

Premilla Nadasen
Barnard College

Alisa Rod
Barnard College

The Mississippi Semester Project is a collaborative, critical GIS project bringing together members of Barnard College’s Empirical Reasoning Center, History Professor Premilla Nadasen, undergraduate students, and the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative (MLICCI), an advocacy organization for women on welfare and child-care providers. This project developed out of the needs of MLICCI to understand the economic security of women in Mississippi and sought to move beyond the limitations of current analyses on poverty. Measuring economic security has often been synonymous with measuring poverty and most studies on poverty, even critical studies, privilege data and/or maps and limit their analysis to either gender or race. We utilized mapping as a way to surface inequities, but we also prioritized the lived experiences of low-income women in Mississippi and worked with them to redefine economic security to include variables such as education, unemployment, and health insurance. Complicating the narrative around race and gender, we incorporated Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory on intersectionality and mapped the effect of both race and gender on women’s economic security. This project provides a framework for developing critical GIS projects that are participatory, incorporate nuanced understandings of inequality and power, and that value oral histories and lived experiences. An experiment in pedagogy, the project also provides a framework for teaching students, primarily in the social sciences, how to incorporate quantitative analysis into advocacy work, while still utilizing qualitative analysis and elevating people’s stories.