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GIS and Human Geography
November 15, 2005
eSeminar in GIS: Putting the e into
GI Science (Mark Birkin, Leeds).
Thursday, November 17, 17.00.
room 3514 Georg Sverdups Hus.
Oslo Project
Project description. Clearly state hypothesis or research focus
Data sources and limitations (include table of metadata)
Describe spatial distributions of data (include map)
Discuss changes over time (include comparison of two maps with
additional statistical information).
Focus on one particular bydel – provide general description
(population, income, ethnic composition, changes in 2005, etc)
(include map of Oslo bydel and inset map to identify location of your
Describe GPS data mapped and supplementary data (list locations
and coordinates in a table) (include bydel map)
Analysis: what are your findings based on a mapping of your data?
(conduct a spatial analysis, e.g. buffer, measure)
Oslo Project
Four examples of good projects from
2004 are available for you to review.
Masters Students
Paper Option: Address a research question of
your choice using GIS
Include information about data capture; data
manipulation and analysis; data output and
Paper should include maps and preliminary
This is not a thesis, but should represent a
potential methodological contribution to it. It
will be evaluated based on how it link GIS
and your research topic to produce output.
Midterm Quizzes
Average on Midterm Quiz 1: 24,7
Average on Midterm Quiz 2: 24,2
Grades will be assigned based on the total of
the two quizzes:
55-60 = A
49-54 = B
43-48 = C
37-42 = D
31-36 = E
Below 30 = F
Special guest lecture
Dr. Amy Glasmeier, Penn State
GIS and Society:
A Critical Assessment
Critiques in the academic literature:
Sheppard, E. 1995. GIS and Society: Towards
a Research Agenda. Cartography and
Geographic Information Systems 22(1):5-16.
Pickles, J. (ed). 1995. Ground Truth
Pickles, J. 1997. Tool or Science? GIS,
Technoscience, and the Theoretical Turn.
Annals of AAG 87(2):363-372.
Initiative 19: GIS and Society: The Social Implications of How
People, Space, and Environment are Represented in GIS (began
February 1996).
The initiative focused attention on the social contexts of GIS production and use and
addresses a series of conceptual issues:
In what ways have particular logic and visualization techniques, value systems, forms of
reasoning, and ways of understanding the world been incorporated into existing GIS
techniques, and in what ways have alternative forms of representation been filtered out?
How has the proliferation and dissemination of databases associated with GIS, as well as
differentiatial access to spatial databases, influenced the ability of different social groups to
utilize information for their own empowerment?
How can the knowledge, needs, desires, and hopes of marginalized social groups be
adequately represented in GIS-based decision-making processes?
What possibilities and limitations are associated with using GIS as a participatory tool for
more democratic resolution of social and environmental conflicts?
What ethical and regulatory issues are raised in the context of GIS and Society research and
GIS as a tool?
The idea that GIS, or any technology, is
simply a problem-solving tool views
technology as the means to achieve a certain
end. In this view, the goals are set
independently, and technological
development is the process of finding the tool
that offers the best means to achieve that
goal. In practice, however, it is difficult to
separate means from ends.
”In other words, the social
consequences of technologies go far
beyond problem-solving to actually
influencing the goals themselves,
sometimes in dramatic ways
(development of trade, cataloging of
resources, definition of property
GIS is not just a tool for processing
geographical information.
It is a social technology incorporating an entire
institutional and intellectual infrastructure that
delivers and markets GIS. It has to be understood
within the social context in which it was developed.
Much of the lead in GIS technology has been
taken in North America and Great Britain.
Thus it reflects:
Priorities of US society, such as demands for military
The degree to which the private sector has
dominated the development of GIS,
The types of problems that potential customers for
GIS wish to solve,
Factors affecting data availability and cost,
Weakness of geography as an intellectual discipline in
the US, which affects the degree to which geographic
expertise is used in the development of GIS.
GIS is based on Boolean or mathematical logic:
Deductive logic thought to allow the absolute truth or
falsity of analytical statements to be assessed. But no
absolute grounds exist for asserting the validity of
mathematical logic. Alternative logics cannot be
dismissed as inferior or subjective.
Boolean logic is fundamentally an instrumental, or
agorithmic, logic, directed to finding solutions to
problems. But communication involves a different
form of rationality.
The focus on logic and problem-solving may hide
other options and opportunities (eg siting of toxic
waste dump).
Does GIS place limits on ways of representing
Computational operations on spatially referenced
information must conform to basic geometric rules
and assumptions, such as those specifying the
continuity or divisibility of space, and excluding
simultaneous occupancy of the same location in
space-time by different objects.
In non-Western thought the range of possible
conceptions of space is presumably much greater.
Problems with pattern analysis:
Different processes may produce the same pattern
and the same pattern may be produced by different
This requires a theory to identify what the important
relations are. GIS lacks this, often ignoring underlying
It provides a list of winners and losers, but provides
no understanding as to why the differences occur.
GIS reinforces a tendency to rely on secondary
data sources for empirical analyses.
Geographical analysis driven by the availability of
data, rather than letting data collection be driven by
Social power of information systems: private firms
can get our credit card ratings, but we cannot get
detailed financial information about those private
Does GIS facilitate equal access to geographical
information for all social classes?
Information technology has placed information and
the equipment to process it in the hands of more
users, linked in increasingly complex ways.
But the rapid development has resulted in
increasingly sophisticated ways of using the
information infrastructure to monitor and influence
Groups with access to GIS may be able to make a
better argument in conflictual political processes.
Polarization of users and non-users.
Socio-economic applications in GIS
Is there any real substance?
Real estate, energy delivery, agribusiness, tourism,
and communications, insurance, retailing, market
analyses, delivery services, telecommunications, fast
food location strategies, and so on.
Missing are the analyses of ethical and political
questions that emerge as GIS institutions and
practices are extended into socioeconomic domains.
Concepts, practices, and institutional linkages remain
unproblematized; treated as normal and reasonable
ways of thinking and acting.
The pursuit of social goals (eg land distribution) through
GIS is a political process and cannot ignore this fact, no
matter how much GIS may allow us to simulate possible
alternative decision-making scenarios. Value-neutral
GIS does not exist.
GIS empowers the powerful and
disenfranchises the weak and not so powerful
through the selective participation of groups
and individuals.
Data are usually treated unproblematically,
except for technical concerns about errors.
But every data set represents a multitude of social
In general, the more powerful do the finding out
about the less powerful.
Since most data are collected by the state (eg census
data), GIS can be criticized as being a handmaiden of
the state.
This wouldn’t be a problem if all states were benign,
but they aren’t.
GIS neglects themes that are not included in the
The poorer the country, the worse and less the data.
Thus much of the world is neglected within GIS
Alternative worlds for which there are no data are
ruled out or excluded.
Information gathering as a commercial activity,
producing a product for sale
(eg, weather information)
Disadvantaged groups are least able to purchase the
information that they need, especially information
that is expensive to collect.
Although more accurate information can improve
understanding, it can also enable actors to act in
more complex ways (eg, airline pricing).
The more complex a society becomes, the more
complex and expensive the information it needs to
make sense of itself.
GIS does not incorporate ”indigenous” knowledge.
Diverse information possessed by different racial
groups, classes, and genders is usually excluded.
Surveillance capabilities of GIS
GIS has been linked with the academy, the state, and
”Information society” as a misnomer that hides the
increasing surveillant capability of state institutions
and transnational corporate enterprises (see Pickles
Example: Montes Azules
Biosphere Reserve
Example: Montes Azules
Biosphere Reserve
Settlers were already living in the reserve
when it was established in 1979. Others have
moved in more recently.
Conservation International routinely monitors
the situation in this biosphere reserve to
detect illegal deforestation.
The Mexican military has access to this
information and has evicted entire villages
(coincides with efforts to wipe out EZLN).
GIS seen by many as an ominous system of
The power of GIS should not be underestimated,
but at the same time GIS should not be
overpromoted or blindly attacked. GIS provides a
tool to use on geographical information. What
they are used for and how to make best use of
them depends on the attitudes and mindsets of
their users and what they want to do with them.
GIS as ”the escalator that geography
can ride to finally occupy its legitimate
position as a significant member of the
quantitative and empirical sciences”
(Sheppard 1995, p. 5)
Does GIS contribute to ”a growing split
between ’techies’ and ’intellectuals’ in
contemporary geography”?
(Sheppard 1995, p. 5)
What next?
ESRI Brukerkonferanse
WUN and eSeminars
GIS Internships
GIS Group?