GIS and Society: Towards a Research Agenda – Sheppard 1995

The text “GIS and Society: Towards a Research Agenda” by Eric Sheppard (1995) explores many of the often forgotten (or purposefully omitted?) externalities of GIS in addition to an analysis of the effects of the assumptions behind its development.  Sheppard touches on nearly all the social  contentions my colleagues and I have been discussing this semester.  I enjoyed this read for the broad coverage of topics so rarely discussed as well as the tone that Sheppard takes-a critical yet optimist and very rational one.  I found that I agreed with the majority of what he had to say, particularly,  the discussion on paths taken by GIS and how these have been influenced not by the research questions but rather by the availability of data.  I have experienced this first hand in every final research project in the mandatory GIS minor courses.  First, you develop a research question then you look for data and adjust your research topic in accordance to what you were able to find.  Now from the university’s perspective I suppose this would be deemed okay as students are often trying to do a class project in an incredibly short time period and do not have the ability to find or collect the necessary data to answer their questions.  However, I would argue that this is where the future of GIS is and that by allowing this it perpetuates the problem.

The fact that data availability  is driven by a market rather then the altruistic quest for knowledge undoubtedly has profound impacts for GIS.  Revisiting the tool or science debate, I think that this alone is evidence enough to place GIS as a science and not a tool.  The fact that many researchers omit these considerations leads us to view GIS as a tool.  Moreover, If we – society – want to progress then GIS will need to be universally accepted as a science.  Not to forsake tool-like functions of its application but to , instead, encourage all researchers to think about the social implications of their research.



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