Spatial Ontologies

Agarwal’s “ontological considerations is GIS” left me with a lot of questions. The article attempts to outline different conceptions of ontology (both strongly theoretical and technical). Ontology is most simply defined in the final paragraph of the paper as “a systematic study of what a conceptual or formalized model should encapsulate to represent reality”. However, how do we translate personal ontologies into more global technologies? The paper briefly questions what it means to produce an ontology including concepts with variable semantics, that may be vague or differently understood by geographers and those outside the domain. The fractures between disciplines point to the inefficacy of a top-down approach to producing ontologies. Agarwal is correct to question this paradigm, noting the benefits and disadvantages of its counterpart.
Agarwal’s discourse, however, seems to be still firmly couched in the academic context. What would it mean to create a bottom-up ontology of more partipatory platforms? How might we make semantics less fuzzy in the case of non-professional conceptual knowledge? Is it possible, and more importantly, is it even desirable? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I want again to interrogate the power dynamicsthat inform what becomes a part of what we want to represent reality. There are inherent cultural biases in what we will want to represent, and by maintaining a basis of reality defined by academics, we ignore ontologies that fit outside of dominant strains of thought.



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