Feminist Visualization: Kwan, 2002

In Kwan’s Feminist Visualization piece, the benefits and limitations of current GIScience (referred to as GIS by the author) research methods with regards to feminist areas of inquiry are explored from a critical GIScience perspective. Kwan details at great length the historical antecedents of feminist geography, defining it as “research [that] draws upon cultural, post-structural, postcolonial, and psychoanalytic theories, while turning away from objectivist epistemologies” (646).

For someone who does not pretend to fully grasp the importance of gender studies within GIScience, I found the article to be shocking at times, though thoughtful throughout.

I found the call for increased quantitative data collection at finer scales (ie, at the household and/or the individual level) to be interesting and reminiscent of articles that focused on (mainly) quantitative studies on geo-complexity. I ask myself: Is it possible to effectively understand individuals without gathering data at the individual level? Or rather, is it possible to understand a complex system of entities without first understanding the interactions at the finest scale? Or can we argue that society (or Kwan’s “daily lives of women”) is greater than the sum of its part (in that it is a complex system), and therefore rendering such high resolution data unnecessary?

As complexity science would have it, it depends on the question we ask of the system. In the case of critical GIS and Kwan’s article, it would seem that we do in fact require qualitative data at the individual level, as the goal is to conduct first and foremost non-reductionist and anti-oppressive research.

It is clear that human geography and GIScience are two fields that still have yet to find solid common ground on methods of research, though hope is in sight as more students seek to “straddle the fence”, as Goodchild puts it, and bring the two together.


Kwan, Mei-Po. 2002. Feminist Visualization: Re-envisioning GIS as a Method in Feminist Geographic Research. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 92, 4, 645–661.

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