Feminist GIS – Kwan

I have been looking forward to discussing the topic of Critical GIS in this course. I was particularly excited to read Kwan’s article that discussed Feminist Visualization in GIS because I have studied feminist theory for other courses and find the subject very relevant to my own personal experiences. Because feminist theory is so varying and complex, some strains of feminist theory are not necessarily compatible with the goals, strategies, and affiliations of  other frameworks of feminist theory. As a result, I was very curious to see how the article would aim to reconcile GIS with feminist thought in general. It seems that the paper focused on a multi-culturalist/difference-based perspective of feminism. However, it would be interesting to see how other frameworks of feminism fit into Kwan’s argument (radical feminism for example).

In my own research of spatial cognition, I have seen countless studies that assert differences of spatial ability based on gender. These studies attribute difference of spatial ability among genders not to socialized context, but to biological and genetic determinants. During my lecture on spatial cognition, I was surprised that no one seemed very disturbed that cognitive GIScientists were categorizing and labeling abilities based on the concept of gender. I think that it is important that we critically examine these studies to acknowledge the accomplishments of feminist thinkers in disproving worth based on socially constructed ideologies. For instance, why emphasize gender at all in these scientific studies? Aren’t there other groups that might show an even greater discrepancy of spatial ability? In scientific research, we find a focus on gender because the society we live in emphasizes these categorizations. Scientific studies that incorporate gender differences emerge from a historical context that has used labels of gender to regulate and confine people’s behaviors and capacities. When we apply epistemologies of dominance to scientific studies, they dangerously become rebranded as truth or fact. Therefore, when we do the science of GIS, we must critically question whether this science perpetuates frameworks of thinking that reinforce systematic inequalities. Anything less is doing a disservice to any movement that refuses to accept oppressive frameworks as natural or inherent.


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