GIS and Society (Sheppard 1995)

Sheppard constructs a solid argument that to understand the social impacts of GIS will both improve our understanding of GIS as a tool (by better situating its epistemological underpinnings and their strengths and limitations) and because GIS has complex effects on society apart from positivist assumptions of general benefit. As a new method of investigation (and realm of investigation, therefore, in its own right) GIS has tended to reinforce the positivist inclinations of the “techies” while ruffling the feathers of the so-called “intellectuals” within geography.

“GIS and Society,” and, I would argue, Prof. Sieber’s course on GIScience in general, exhibit the need to bring a depth of philosophical and political debate to the forefront of geography as a discipline–or if you want, to put the now rapidly-expanding information harvest of “Big Data” under intellectual scrutiny. I am left somewhat¬†unsure of the ability of Critical GIS, as a subdiscipline of GIS, to achieve this task on its own. What relationship, exactly, do the leading academic figures of GISCience have to philosophers of contemporary technology, if any? Are the philosophers of technology aware of the advances in GIScience, and their implications for political and social order in the world today?

If the lesson of colonialism and the Mercator projection illustrates the complex impacts of advances in technology on humanity, then we ought to engage in the same sort of scrutiny now, in the midst of this current wave of advances, rather than after the fact.


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