Schuurman (2006) – Critical GIS

Schuurman discusses the shifting presence of Critical GIS in Geographic Information Science (GISc) and its evolving role in the development of the field. Among other obstacles, Schuurman identifies formalisation—the process by which concepts are translated into forms that are readable in a digital environment—as a key challenge to critical theoretical work gaining further traction in GISc.  

Critical GIS challenges the idea that information about a spatial object, system or process can be made ‘knowable’ in an objective sense; our epistemological lense always filters our view, and there is not necessarily a singular objective truth to be uncovered. Schuurman argues that this type of analysis, applied to GIS, has been provided to some extent by ontological GISc research. Contrastingly, this body of research presumes a limit to the understanding of a system, emphasising plurality and individuality of experience (e.g. the multiple perspectives represented in PPGIS research).

That said, previous analyses have fallen short in adequately acknowledging and addressing power relations, demographic inequalities, social control and marginalisation as part of the general design process in GIS. In particular, the translation between cognitive and database representations of reality requires explicit treatment in following research. These observations become increasingly relevant in the context of the rising integration of digital technologies in everyday life.

The paper raises the question of how Critical GIS can affect change on discipline and practice. Going beyond external criticism, critiques must reason within the discipline itself. I would ask how Critical GIS might also gain greater traction outside of academic settings (e.g. in influencing industrial practice of GISc)?

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