Do computers know us better than we know ourselves?

October 20th, 2014

“No biological or environmental constraints fully determine human thought and action, but neither does any schema or cognitive structure” (Amadeo & Golledge, 2003: 141)

Environmental Perception and Behavioural Geography is concerned with the “behavioral issues that ultimately, through their implications, contribute to long-term knowledge about durable human–environment relations” (Amadeo & Golledge, 2003: 134). This field of geography emerged with the desire of understanding human decision-making in spatial contexts. Initial research was flawed because of its assumptions that individuals had “limited but prominent” goals, but new works aim to comprehend actual persons.

EPBG reminds me of the lecture on agent based modelling. With a refined knowledge of human behaviour, will it be possible to use a GIS to create accurate models of humans?

On the one hand, I am tempted to say that it would be impossible. Much like indigenous knowledge, human behaviour is too unique and versatile to be compatible with a GIS. One of the critiques of EPBG was in fact the “constrained structures in the elicitation of ‘data’” (Amadeo & Golledge, 2003: 142). Because human experience can’t be constrained or understood by binary categories (so far), I hope it will remain outside the realm of science and modeling.

On the other hand, in a world where our location is constantly being recorded through our smart phones, and our interests and preferences can be identified by looking through our Internet history, there seems to be no limit to the data available on humans and our behaviour. If our gender, age, sexual identity, location, can be identified through an analysis of tweets, is there a limit to the power of technology? Do computers actually know us better than we know ourselves?


Spaces and Who We Are

October 20th, 2014

Humans are considered to be biological entities and there has been a shift from studying  aggregations of human events to considering humans as individual biological entities and studying them as such. This reminds me of the agent based model of Emergent Group Level Navigation: An Agent Based Evaluation of Movement Patterns in a Folivorous Primate (Bonnell et al., 2013) in which each agent makes both independent and collective decisions and the unit of measurement is at the agent scale. Though the findings were aggregated the lowest common denominator was the monkey unit.

The notion that spaces and places have the power to evoke an emotional response, and that this can then speak to the individuals intended activity is a salient idea. Geography is concerned with processes that happen over space, and these response though cognitive in nature are no exception. One might argue however, that such things are difficult to measure.

This concept of environmental perception  and behavioural geography does not seem related in any way to GIScience. While I read through the article I struggled to find any semblance of links between the two topics. Upon further reflection however, the emergence of the domain of environmental perception and behaviour geography would require a development in GIScience techniques and capabilities to speak to this growing research interest in how the activities of an individual is formed by the perception of the environment in which they find themselves. Though I do not have an answer, I’m left with the following question: In what ways would analysis and data type option need to adapt to represent the dynamics of the EPBG specialization within a GIScience context?

- Othello


October 20th, 2014


I’m not sure if this is going off on a tangent but I though while reading this article that it would be really cool to somehow map people’s perceptions of their environments.  For example, it could be really neat to see how people perceive public space or how soldiers react to adverse situations.  Surely there would be a lot of necessary technology to do such a thing but the idea is one I found interesting.  There are so many applications where it would be useful to know how people perceiving and reacting to their environment without actually having to ask them.

To me it also seems that this article relates somewhat to what we’ve discussed in previous classes about big data and the harvesting of information off of social media websites.  Those applications seem to take try to understand how humans perceive certain phenomena based on what they express while EPBG I believe is trying to gain an understanding of how humans understand a phenomena though not necessarily how they outwardly express that understanding.



We are where we live

October 20th, 2014

Up to now several topics such as public participation GIS, Cyberinfrastructure, Agents, Social Network Analysis methods, etc. were discussed. These topics are pretty much about manipulating geospatial data, since that is what we do in GIScience, I think. And when it comes down to the data, humans are all about providing data. There are many use of such data and because of its enormous quantity, one can collect and retrace back or even create the target’s profile based on tweets, purchases made, photos, friends, used search keywords, etc. Therefore one can use software to estimate the living setting of the user quite accurately using such information available in the web. As for geospatial data, specifically, one can collect, manipulate and sometime visualize the data as a map and one may believe such digitalized representation of a space is in fact identical to the actual space, and it was possible because it is mere a space.

However, in EPBG, a space is not just a space. In my understanding, EPBG argues that there are such a strong relationship with one’s behavior and the way one perceive the surrounding, and not the surrounding itself. It was quite intriguing, because in that sense, if two individuals who are located in completely different location may behave quite similarly if their way of processing the external information for the different settings are equivalent and vice versa.

So far in GIScience, humans are all about providing data. Whereas in EPBG, it is human, specifically the brain, that collects the information from the past experiences, memories, etc. from a specific space and re-create a place, therefore each space representing a unique place for each individual and that leads to the specific behavior.

This reminds me of a quote “You are what you buy”

And make me think that in fact, we are not only what we buy/eat, but we are also where we live. Since there is a clear distinction with people living in North America settings, like us, versus Europe, Africa, Middle East, and Asia, in terms of level of education, daily life style, diet, language, etc. Furthermore, even within the North America, depending on which regions distinguishes us and one can observe such distinctions even within a city like Montreal. And there comes the issue of MAUP.

Long story short, it is not whether we, as humans, our behaviors are shaped by the environment per se nor these shape the environment, but it is rather bidirectional: we perceive the environment the way we have been affected by, therefore both are intrinsically correlated.

This is such a headache because psychology is not my strongest field. Nevertheless, I find this subject quite absorbing.



Are we more than the sum of our data?

October 20th, 2014

Amedeo & Golledge – Environmental Perception and Behavioural Geography

Although the subject matter is neutralized by Amedeo & Golledge’s academic tone, the underlying theme of this article is very unsettling. Being able to predict another’s behaviour is a strategic victory. If one can expect a certain response from an individual based on environmental (social and physical) conditions, their behaviour becomes an exploitable resource. For emergency scenarios this could drastically change the outcome of natural disasters. Imagine being able to predict the evacuation of a city following an earthquake. One may be able to predict the likely location of survivors based on escape route. For an individual example, consider how this may aid missing persons cases. There are many situations in which Environmental Perception and Behavioural Geography (EPBG) could positively affect society.

Unfortunately, there may be equally as many insidious applications of EPBG research. These applications may be less exciting but will become more pervasive in daily life. In GEOG 307 one of our assignments entailed finding the ideal location for a high-end audio store in Montreal. By using the generic profile of audiophiles (Male, late 20s-40s, annual income: 80 000+) and combining this knowledge with census data, we were able to find the hypothetical best intersection for this store. This application of geo-marketing was fixed in place as were the targeted demographic. Now imagine the possibilities of knowing your target individual’s path between home and work, their spending habits, and their favourite places to hangout, etc. This has and will continue to transform advertising and marketing campaigns. Now, through data fusion, you may come to learn what political sentiments they hold, the religion they practice, their sexual orientation, etc. I believe most people would find the disclosure of latter list of attributes unsettling to those other than their family and friends. We recognize that these are potentially vulnerable attributes about ourselves and we certainly do not want to be exploited through these traits. However, the reality is we are increasingly revealing these personal qualities directly, indirectly, voluntarily, and involuntarily. We are becoming more vulnerable to corporations and governments. I for one think we need to revaluate the information we share on the web and continue the debate about the ethical treatment of our personal data.

Amedeo & Golledge write that it is an important question to ask what constitutes an environment. I think it’s more important to ask what constitutes an individual.


E.P.B.G & G.I.Science

October 20th, 2014

The article we read this week, “Environmental Perception and Behavioral Geography” by Amedeo & Golledge, discussed the development and significance of the specialization of behavioral geography. While not immediately obvious, there are some similarities between this field of study and that of G.I.Science. As the authors discussed on page 137, Environmental Perception and Behavioral Geography’s (E.P.B.G.) beginning was influenced by a changing focus of study from large scale human events over extensive spaces to a smaller, more individual, scale which emphasized the importance of interaction between humans and their environment. After this shift in scale of study, traditional issues were revisited and more questions were asked. An important tenant of G.I.Science is that of scale. Many ideas or perceptions can be changed when something is examined at a different scale. Whether one is looking at issues of scale in terms of a river network (G.I.S) or a shift in a focus of study (E.P.B.G.), knowing how to manage and maximize the positive consequences of scale is important for both fields.

An interesting idea that was discussed in the article was what constituted an environment. Since E.P.B.G. is heavily focused upon environment and how humans interact with and experience it, having a good idea of what it constitutes is a good idea. As was noted, two broad categories of environment (built and non-built) emerged, which greatly expanded the field of study. Similar to G.I.Science, as was discussed in class, there can often be complications that arise when people have different definitions of an object or idea (ex. when does a river start or stop). Speaking of which, I felt that this paper glossed over the idea of what makes an environment and that the couple of sentences devoted to it were unfulfilling. A more comprehensive definition would have made the overall paper clearer, but perhaps a more comprehensive definition is not obtainable.



Environmental Perception and Behavioural Geography

October 19th, 2014

“Environmental Perception and Behavioural Geography” (EPBG) by Amedeo & Golledge discuss the emergence and importance of the EPBG to better understand person-environment relations. The understanding of person-environment relations requires external information about both humans, human interaction and place. Within this larger topic, spatial social network (SSN) analyses gain relevance by providing a map of relationships among individuals and an assessment of the link between individuals and their locations. SSN provides a representation of social ties and affinity to place, while EPBG offers ways to understand how the spatial social structure influence the environment or how the environment shapes spatial social structures (or both).
In a similar way Big Data, particularly spatial data, enables the analysis of large amounts of information about how people engage with the environment, which could contribute to our understanding of human-environment relations (if data is properly selected for).
An issue I find particularly interesting which was not brought up by the article, is how humans engage with their virtual environment. Increasingly, people identify themselves with online personas, which can range from a mere representation of oneself online to the creation of avatars in a virtual reality. In this context, the notion of environment as a space may lose some of its importance in favor of a conceptualization of the environment as a place. The relationships people engage in in this social sphere has yet to be fully explored or analyzed and will present EPBG with interesting opportunities and challenges.

Indigenous G.I.S.

October 14th, 2014

This was definitely the first time I have been exposed to the idea of Indigenous G.I.S and the author raised some thought-provoking points. I found, however, that it was a little challenging to follow some of the arguments that he was attempting to make, but that was most probably due to my bias coming from a technoscientist background. To wit, the author argued that there were positive aspects of not inscribing or writing down knowledge, an idea that is fairly unfamiliar to me. After reading the article and understanding where the author is coming from I can see his point of view but since “we are steeped in the ways of the society that produced them”, I’m not sure if I’m 100% convinced of his rationale.

Another curious point that was raised was how G.I.S. could potentially be toxic to human diversity. G.I.S. traditionally follows Western standards about geographical space and knowledge and the author argues that this can be subversive towards indigenous cultures. The author also argues that the way in which geographic data is represented (using maps, G.I.S., etc.) is inherently destabilizing towards indigenous culture. This is not a point that is often raised so it was fascinating to read. Whether it is destabilizing or not (I’m not fully convinced), I feel that it is important that this debate takes place since protecting the cultural integrity of minorities should be an important goal for everybody.




October 13th, 2014

I found this article to be very interesting.  Now in my final class of a GIS minor, it is difficult to imagine a GIS that does not portray geographical features as objects which are meant to be manipulated by humans.  A paper I recently skimmed through looked at creating an ontology of hydrological features with Cree people in northern Quebec.  It was an interesting read mostly because of how difficult it appeared to be to formalize a worldview into a computer readable ontology.   It seems one of the recurring themes of this class is that GIS does not handle “fuzzy” or non-concrete views of the world very well.


The survival of the fittest

October 13th, 2014

I was at first worried about the way I felt when I first read this article, but seeing the postings of other people, I am relieved that I was not the only one who thought that this article is too much. I would like to approach this article in a very different angle, and watch out: This may sound weird and very offensive to some people as well.

First of all, when we are using ArcMap Desktop for instance, we use GIS technology to represents what is in fact a 3D, Earth surface, into a 2D, a digitalized map and it is a “representation” that can be stored and manipulated to be used for different projects, and not necessarily contain any meaning more than that. Yeah of course back in the time, European people did assimilated aboriginal population for the resources and the terrain and all, but in 21st Century, I believe they have more realistic interest than willing to take away anything from aboriginal population, or spend decades in research and finance to assimilate the already-so-minority aboriginal population and their culture because they cannot stand it. Why so much hate? Chill!

Besides, this is just a thought that I got it few years ago when I watched couple of documentary videos concerning aboriginal population and their view on how Western people tend to take their culture away and assimilate them with Western cultures: If these aboriginal people are so into the flow of the nature and that everything should flow naturally according to the nature, how come they are excluding themselves? Why can’t they think that the Westerner people assimilating may be just the way nature is according them to do so? Just like some ants species are making war against other ant species and take over their territory. Isn’t that how the Mother Nature always let things happen?  The survival of the fittest?


Different epistemologies

October 13th, 2014

I really enjoyed reading Rostrum’s article titled “GIS, indigenous peoples, and epistemological diversity”. It explores how the use of GIS in cross-cultural contexts, imports with it, a set of ideas and understandings about how the world works, which can intentionally or unwittingly undermine or displace other epistemologies.
I find his ideas particularly interesting in the context of the development of international GIS systems, and the establishments of standards that such systems require. How do you incorporate diverse understandings about the concepts of space and time and elements in nature into a common, standardized system? Is such an endeavour even worthwhile?
I share Rostrum’s concerns over assimilation of peoples and their ideas, but I also see the value in a comprehensive, cross-cultural GIS.
Fundamentally, I think it falls on GIS users, developers and advocates to be actively mindful of such issues, and to expand GIS systems to better account for the diversity of epistemologies (while also recognizing that the structures of GIS may be fundamentally incompatible with some ways of knowing).

Rostrum’s argument echoes concerns over neocolonial tendencies in other academics disciplines, notably demography, cartography, sociology and international development. An active effort on the part of individuals, practitioners and academics is needed to address such issues.


GIS, Indigenous Peoples, and Epistemological Diversity

October 13th, 2014

The Rundstrum reading, “GIS, Indigenous Peoples, and Epistemological Diversity”, describes the incompatibility between the epistemological systems of GIS and indigenous peoples. ESRI’s moto, “Geography Organizing Our World”, assumes that everyone has the same vision of the world and that they can be rationalized into one model, although this is not the case. The author brings up many conflicts, mainly the absence in GIS of relatedness, non-empirical knowledge, the linear/cyclical understanding of time and the “democratization” of knowledge. The conclusion is that GIS cannot incorporate indigenous “notions” without diminishing them.

Although I agree that GIS is limited to a specific Western interpretation of the world, I feel that the author doesn’t offer a solution to the problem. Does GIS’ inability to capture all beliefs and understandings make it invalid? Should indigenous affairs be disregarded in GIS?

The main problem seems to be the government and Bureau of Indian Affairs imposing a set of norms and values to the native peoples through the use of GIS, but not the GIS itself. There is no doubt that there is a great level of injustice and inequality against natives, but I think attacking the GIS technology is shifting attention away from the assimilationist governments.

On another note, the author offers a description of GIS I feel I can finally ascribe to, as a technoscience “where technology has become the embodiment of science and its precepts”, although we don’t seem to appreciate it in the same way.


To Be Honest…

October 13th, 2014

I’m just going to put it out there: I think this article is rather ridiculous. I know that sounds a little harsh but it’s just the way I feel. Who cares if non-empirical methods and facts can’t be put into ‘western’ or ‘European’ GIS applications? Just because the software and field of GIS the way it is exists doesn’t mean that now it is required to view the world in the same way. If indigenous populations feel that their world view is incompatible with the current GIS softwares – then they can go about developing one that does shows the relationships they see in the environment. In my opinion, the fundamentals of GIS are computers and hard facts – it’s zeros and ones – how would you even start to put fluffy non-empirical evidence into software program? It’s just ridiculous that someone is even bringing this up. It even says that “indigenous peoples often use other sources of information about the world in concert with an empirically perceived reality to make their knowledge statements. In other words, indigenous peoples find those evil empirical facts kind of useful. Yeah – that’s right Rundstorm – the Western view on things isn’t so bad now is it? He also makes a point about technological advances and how we must ‘keep up’ with it. I disagree – I find paper maps still extremely useful and use them every day. Books and other ‘old school’ methods of taking down information are also still being used all the time. Now I know I’m coming down on this author a little hard – I get it – he’s just trying to show that we should think about the methods we present and collect data most often isn’t necessarily the only way or the right way (the whole argument about epistemology). It just really angers me that he considers indigenous peoples as the only ones who view the world in a non empirical way and that he presents the ‘western’ view of the world as evil. The stereotyping was just upsetting. Honestly, he could have stated his arguments in a less infuriating way.

Until next time,


Cultural Sensitivities in GIScience

October 13th, 2014

Technologies and ways of thinking vary widely between cultures. While I celebrate the great opportunities offered by the innovation of GIS I have never until now considered the implication of western-based geographic knowledge practices in other cultural context. Rundstrom raises crucial questions by reviewing the ways in which Eurocentric GIS is an assimilating technology with relation to North American indigenous groups.

The way geographical knowledge is stored and shared in Euro-North American realms differs from that of indigenous peoples. The danger arises when these differences have a negative impact on indigenous geographic knowledge systems, or when Euro-centric technologies such as explicit map objects or GIS are used as tools of exploitation.

From our (Eurocentric) point of view – “GIS is [...] touted as a democratizing technology that can empower anyone in society”. We marvel at the ability for information to be shared for use by all. This however makes indigenous knowledge tangible and accessible. Indigenous societies bestow more care in the decision of who can receive geographic knowledge, and even store knowledge through oral communication and performance-based modes that are foreign to us. For them, information is intentionally shared in circles of interdependency rather than full democracy in complex systems far different from the context within which GIS western-based GIS was created. There is a clear incompatibility that must be addressed when we don’t stop to ask the question: “Who knows what people do with information?”.

How then do we respond? I am unsure of how GIS can evolve to remain effective while better preserving and upholding the culture of others. While I there is a clear need for deep self-reflection concerning the assimilating force that GIS holds today, our ways of thinking also hold value and cannot be entirely sacrificed.

- Othello


The Complexity of Indigenous Epistemologies

October 13th, 2014

Rundstrom (1995) GIS, Indigenous Peoples, and Epistemological Diversity

Despite Rundstrom’s argument that the “technoscience” of GIS is at odds with indigenous epistemologies, parallel concepts do emerge. Rundstrom’s account of the Tewa people’s “circles of interdependency” as a means of storing and preserving knowledge seems remarkably similar to the direction geographic information systems and data storage are heading. Spatial data infrastructures and cloud storage do not store all information in one machine, rather, information is distributed and called upon when needed. Additionally, Rundstrom conveniently fails to mention any ‘inscriptive’ indigenous mapping techniques that represent topographical and topological relationships like GIS. During the first GEOG 596 seminar this year we were introduced to several indigenous cartographic representations such as the Inuit bone carving representing the fjords of an arctic coastline and Polynesian stick charts that depict navigational routes. Rundstrom does however illustrate how maps have authoritative power and are therefore an exploitable resource.

To me the most intriguing aspect of this article is Rundstrom’s assertion that GIS does not capture relatedness but reconstructs it.  Further, he acknowledges that reassembly of phenomena from fragments is subject to current culture-specific understanding of the world. This is something to keep in mind as GIS users: the decisions we make are products of our time. Ironically, this notion may also provide some insight as to explain Rundstrom’s treatment of indigenous societies in this article. Throughout this article he refers to the indigenous conceptions of the world as if they are isolated and singular e.g. the “Tewa’s pueblo world” and “their world” in reference to the Inuit. Rundstrom simultaneously expresses the GIS serves a singular view of the world while reducing indigenous epistemologies into an ideal form. Treating entire cultures as if they are homogenous seems to discredit his own argument. This paradox reinforces the fact that cultural complexity is a difficult issue to discuss.


Mixed-Method Approaches to Social Network Analysis

October 6th, 2014

“Mixed-Method Approaches to Social Network Analysis” describes the various takes on Social Network Analysis (SNA) using both quantitative and qualitative data. Whereas quantitative data is used in traditional research and allows to “map and measure certain aspects of social relations in a systematic and precise fashion”, quantitative data brings the specific benefit of “(adding) an awareness of process, change, content and context” (Edwards, 5). Using both approaches, or mixed-methods, allows the researcher to get an ‘inside’ and an ‘outside’ view of the subject.

When reading the article, I was struck by the void in which the social networks exist. Despite using the distinctly spatial language of mapping networks, there is a lack of spatiality in the discussion. If we remember Tobler’s first law of geography, “Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things”, distance should be included in all networks. Without weighted relationships or spatial and temporal data, the networks described in the article seemed superficial.

GIScience could take SNA to new dimension: space and (with the right Temporal GIS) time. GIS already has a network analysis function, which could be used to link personal ties between individuals.

With many social networks now only existing in the virtual world, space takes on new meanings (as we saw with spatial cyberinfrastructure). Does physical location then matter in these networks? I would argue that it does, as it is loaded with qualitative data (social and political context, intent, etc) and quantitative data (the coordinates).


Topology, Visualization & Social Network Analysis

October 6th, 2014

After reading Edwards’ article, Mixed-Method Approaches to Social Network Analysis, I have certainly gained a whole new understanding and awareness of Social Network Analysis (S.N.A.). This field of study was not one that I was familiar with, but after reading the paper, I recognized how similar on certain levels G.I.Science and S.N.A. actually were (which is becoming increasingly common with the more I/we learn in this course).

The first point that I found interesting was how S.N.A. looked at the social relationships between different actors and how and what kinds of things flow within those relationships. An important link between S.N.A. and G.I.Science is the importance of topology. For example, a researcher could create a visual network map (a.k.a. sociogram) of an agent which shows social connections. An important distinction to take into consideration, just like when using a G.I.S., is whether or not the spatial relationship of the connections play an important role. As was noted in the paper, “the nodes at the center of the diagram are not necessarily the most central in terms of their number of connections to others”.

This also relates to another G.I.Science topic: visualization. Being able to visualize ones data is a powerful instrument to have when conducting science as it can reveal patterns and relationships that might not be evident. When the visualization is misleading, however, (ex. the Mercator projection and relative country size) problems can arise. Knowing of the problems that exist with the visualization and how to use it correctly is necessary for successful applications of both G.I.Science and S.N.A.



Essentiality of Data Structure

October 6th, 2014

Edwards (2010) Mixed-Method Approaches to Social Network Analysis

Gemma Edwards champions the mixed use of qualitative and quantitative methods with regards to social network analysis (SNA). Edward notes that quantitative SNA data can be presented in visual network maps (sociograms). Behind these seemingly incomprehensible webs of ties are the valuable underlying structure of the data, yielding measures such as ‘centrality’, ‘cores’ and ‘segregation’ (11). With respect to qualitative methods Edwards points out that participatory mapping, such as the ‘concentric circles’ approach, is an invaluable tool for qualitative SNA. In this practice the precise distance of contacts relative to the central actor is extraneous. For both examples it is the structural relationship of actors to other actors that is key.

This concept immediately reminded me of our GIScience seminar discussion on the significance of “the most famous map in the world” – the London Underground map a.k.a. the Tube map. To the dismay of novice geographers, the Tube map completely distorts the geographical layout of London. Distance-based measures of proximity do not matter to Tube passengers trying to get from Point A to Point B. Instead, spatial topology, the essential spatial arrangement of parts, is the critical factor for Tube navigation. The importance of the structural relationship of data to other data is the common grounds of SNA and GIScience.

Finding the bare essentials of data structure is not an unfamiliar concept to GIScience. This is a principle that was employed by Bonnell et al. (2013) in their application of geospatial agent-based modeling. Rather than accounting for an infinite number of parameters, the authors filtered out information that would be superfluous to addressing their research question, thereby yielding the fundamental elements that explained primate movement. In a time when the volume and flow of data is beginning to exceed the capacity of traditional statistical methods, quantitative methods (including GIScience) could learn a thing or two about essentiality.


Down the Rabbit Hole

October 6th, 2014

My very first thought this week was: “Why are we being assigned this article? What does social networks analysis have to do with GIScience?” A few sentences into the article and it struck me like an anvil over the head – EVERYTHING is related to GIScience nowadays. On this note, when reading this article I was able to draw two small parallels and an overall large realization.

Firstly, in network analysis data management is obviously key. There is just so much data out there these days (within a year the average person produces 1.8 million mega bytes of data – that’s 9 CDs a day). Therefore, it is absolutely necessary to organize the data into a fashion which makes it possible to analyze. This was the easiest parallel to draw – when we get spatial data that we want to analyze in ArcMap we have to organize it first.

Secondly, there is the data analysis portion of network analysis (surprise, surprise). Of course there is the obvious: you have to run statistical models in GIS and in network analysis. This second parallel brought me to my large realization (call it an epiphany if you will): this entire article is a debate on what type of analysis is considered tangible or scientifically legitimate. This reminds me of that pesky background argument – is GIS a science or a tool? Is qualitative analysis a legitimate way of network analysis? Seem a bit familiar? It even gives the three options that we get in the GIScience debate: one (quantitative/tool), the other (qualitative/science), or mixed (a happy marriage of both). Seeing as I somewhat agree with the qualitative argument in network analysis, this got me considering the ‘s’ in GIS as a science…down the rabbit hole we go.

Until next time,


Socially Networked

October 6th, 2014

In the review paper titled ‘Mixed-Method Approaches to Social Network Analysis’, Edwards begins by outlining the two distinct approaches that one can adopt in the study of social networks through Social Network Analysis (SNA). A network can be described as a constellation of interconnected nodes linked to one another through lines that represent flows or relationships. In SNA quantitative approaches measure network properties such as density, segregation and centrality in a precise fashion, whereas qualitative approaches are more interested in the meaning of this structure, the process of how it came about and the context in which the network is found.

The two approaches affect more than just the way in which the analysis of the networks is executed, but also how the data is collected. The primary modes of data collection for quantitative analysis are walking interviews and visual mapping in which agents or nodes express their perception on the quality and nature of their links with other actors. This method of data collection brings to mind participatory GIScience, where by which the actors of the network volunteer information from an inside view which allow the study of the means and context of the network. This data can then be translated to relational data stored in adjacency matrix which stores information about which agents are tied to which and in what direction. This kind of data is more associated with quantitative analysis.

Sociograms can be described as a is a graphic representation of social links and can be used to both display network structure and offer insight to quantitative researchers who may have missed on linkages and dynamics when analyzing their ethnographic raw data. The link to GIScience demonstrated in this aspect of SNA is the significance of proximity, the position of nodes in a sociogram affect the how one may understand the network. Two unrelated nodes may be positioned close to each other without any links between them, however the mere fact that they are situated next to each other would lead one to believe they are more related to each other than nodes further away (Toblers’ law).

I would echo the push this article makes for a mixed methods approach to SNA, and I believe there are similar need in the realm of GIScience. Precise measurements without context and meaning are weak.

- Othello