3 in 1: GIS as a tool, toolmaking and a science

It is difficult to reach consensus in an interdisciplinary field. Wright et al. clearly display this by bringing forth conflicting definitions of GIS, along with general comments that add more depth to the debate. As discussed in class, the definition of GIS as a science is necessary for political and financial agendas due to funding, credibility and legitimacy. However, this should not rule out the GIS field as toolmaking or a tool, in addition to science. Wright et al. state one defining characteristic, “the answer [on the definition of GIS] depends on who is involved”, where, for example, GIS developers could see it as a science, and students could see it as a tool (350). Thus, I take all three positions — tool, toolmaking and science — on GIS to be valid.

In the article, science is defined as discovery, exploration, and problem understanding not invention (351). However, science was founded by theories. Theories and frameworks have been invented. Thus, indirectly, could science also be an invention? What makes up GIS is highly convoluted, therefore it would be safe to assume that a combination of invention through toolmaking, discovery of new facts through the use of the tool can be combined. There is intrinsic meaning behind a tool simultaneously derived from invention and discovery. The debate over the definition of GIS is overwhelming, however the authors steer us in the right direction. Wright et al. conclude that “older notions of science as the equivalent of ‘hard science’ are being replaced by a more open view [of science]” (358). Progress is seen through difference, which is promoted rather than stifled. In addition to progressive inclusion, the authors’ contend GIS is perceived as a “phenomenon” that encourages discussion and critical thought. I believe this to be a significant shift of perceptions on discovery, practicality and utilization rather than on a specific definition.

Wright et al. (1997). Forum GIS: Tool or Science?


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