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Title: Objects, boundaries and joint work : the role of geographic information systems in the formulation and enforcement of deforestation control policies in Amazonia
Author: Rajao, Raoni Guerra Lucas
Awarding Body: Lancaster University
Current Institution: Lancaster University
Date of Award: 2011
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Over the last decade, the use of geographic information system (GIS) technology has been increasingly depicted by scholars and policy-makers as being able to reduce or even stop deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Simultaneously, this technology was introduced into a growing number of governmental and non-governmental organizations as a policy-making and law enforcement tool. However, despite the growing importance of GIS the literature lacks studies that empirically examine the actual role of this technology in the region. In the light of the above omissions, the aim of this thesis is to explore the role of GIS in facilitating or hindering the joint work practices of the different groups which are involved in the formulation and enforcement of the deforestation control policy in the Amazon. From that this study intends also to contribute to debates concerning the 'dynamics behind the establishment and implications of boundary objects. This study was conducted through a yearlong fieldwork in Brazil during which time historical documents were collected, and interviews as well as work observations with scientists, politicians, senior officials, local managers, bureaucrats and forest rangers (among other groups) were made. The empirical material was mainly analyzed through the concepts of objectification and boundary objects. Specifically, GIS has been conceptualized as a boundary object which, in particular circumstances, is able to offer common ground to facilitate different forms of joint work (i.e. coordination, cooperation and collaboration) across occupational, spatial and political boundaries. From this analysis, three major conclusions emerged. Firstly, the establishment of GIS as a boundary object over the last decades can be explained by considering three interrelated dynamics: a) the political flexibility that enabled GIS to be tailored to suit political and work needs - which varied across historical and organizational contexts; b) the process of negotiation surrounding GIS that allowed different groups to reach compromises and build trust in the technology; and c) the epistemological affinity between the modernist values embedded in GIS and the historical roots of the Brazilian government. Secondly, the use of GIS as a boundary object has been central for the emergence of new forms of joint work across boundaries. Specifically, the process of objectification related to the functioning of GIS as a boundary object facilitated coordination and cooperation in three ways: a) the creation of objectifications on different scales (e.g. from broad policy documents to specific fines) while keeping a single identity allowed different groups to overcome occupational boundaries when coordinating each other's work; b) the objectification of location references into absolute geographic coordinates enabled the outcome of the work of different groups to travel long distances while still being decipherable, thereby overcoming the spatial boundaries involved in coordination and cooperation; and c) the objectification promoted by GIS allowed rangers and bureaucrats to erase the traces of the subjectivity of their own work and thereby to create legal documents that are deemed sufficiently trustworthy to transcend political boundaries. Thirdly, the over-reliance of GIS and the process of objectification also had long-term negative effects and contributed to 'boundary-blinding', namely, the inability of certain groups to understand the social reality and the work done across boundaries. In particular, GIS contributed to: a) the blinding of practices by preventing senior officials and scientists from appreciating the complex challenges involved in enforcing the law on the ground; b) the blinding of the outcomes of the practices and policies relating to the environmental protection of the Amazon, so that senior officials cannot understand the implications of abstract indicators and deforestation rates; and c) the blinding of the motives behind the use of GIS so that the introduction of this technology is believed to always reduce deforestation regardless of the political agenda of those using this technology. As a result of this, boundary-blinding is creating tensions and contradictions within the government that could ultimately undermine the very environmental protection practices that GIS was supposed to support. These three points taken together suggest that the Brazilian government should embrace more engaged forms of joint work. In particular, the government should attempt to move from instrumental forms of coordination and cooperation to forms of collaboration involving knowledge sharing and learning. In this way, the government would be able to deal with the boundary-blinding related to the use of GIS while benefiting from the ability of this technology to overcome spatial, occupational and political boundaries.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available