Thoughts on Schuurman (2006)

I’m unfamiliar with the field of critical GIS, but the divide between “real-worlders” and their critics is apparent in fields beyond GIScience. If there are so many voices of complaint about how knowledge representation reinforces power relations, those critics have to join forces with those developing ontologies and epistemologies. Ten years have passed since Schuurman’s article was written and I’m curious to know how an analysis of the GIS and LNCS literature would be different since 2004. I would also be curious to know if inclusion of marginalized voices has been evident in recent epistemological development, according to Schuurman.

Schuurman frequently comes back to the notion that formalization and GIS data models are highly abstracted versions of reality. She doesn’t make a case for making GIS output any less abstracted, or changing how geographic data is visualized. I agree with her solution, which seems to be much more meta. Developing alternative or more complex ontologies does not align with a linear view of progress in GIScience, but the need for inclusivity in our representation and interpretation of geographic knowledge is central to the expansion of access to GIS knowledge and technology across cultures.

It was interesting learning about the history of critical GIS as a sub-discipline. Schuurman perceives a declining influence of critical GIScience, partially due to the conceptual nature of the work. It appears that critique of GIS is happening across the entire field of GIScience, and the rising field of ontological/epistemological research is incorporating many of the tenets of traditional critical GIS in their reshaping of geographic knowledge representation. Schuurman’s title is very fitting, as she seems to be embracing the shift from conceptual critical GIS to a formalized (and more impactful) approach.

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