Posts Tagged ‘critical gis’

Critical GIS: Ethics, a Ghost of the Past

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Robert Lake’s article “Planning and applied geography…” take the idea to have transcending ethics between field to the extreme. I believe that the type of ethics, or extent, is unique to a field of study and common and should not be pushed into areas where grey zones outnumber the black and white. This article seems to try and force the idea of practitioners as absent minded of ethics, void of the knowledge of technology’s impact on society. Maybe it is my “laissez-faire” attitude or ideals of “I do not care what you believe in, but just do not push it on me ” that is speaking, but I do not believe practitioners have forgotten ethics and their applicability to structuring research in the digital realm. I would argue that it is how the ethics are applied that has changed and is causing this misunderstanding. For instance equal access to GIS data is not truly flawed, as inferred by Lake, as this data can be altered by user and re-published as a modified version, i.e. multiple users can use the data and modify it for themselves to create multiple ethical data sets, that correspond to the user’s ideals and background.

When Lake talks about a means to an end, this is a theoretically flawed assumption, because any good researcher or user of GIS knows that there is no end only a variable set of conclusions that lead to more elaboration of data and a refinement of GIS systems. I personally consider GIS a dynamic tool for representing geographical data in a changing world. Furthermore is it not the idea to show the variety of data from differing backgrounds during analysis to create a mosaic of geographic data that can lead to new discoveries.

The way this article is written and the way GIS and the application of ethical thought are paired, seems disconnected to reality. To clarify the Ethical ideas that Lake speaks of are the old way, a ghost of past thought. Ethics, I believe are considered in a new way, a way that was never considered to older generations of researchers at the time. Ethics of how GIS is used is more loose today, as a global society with a million views cannot be held to the archaic structures of Freudian dynamics of how research is done and how the tools are used.


A Critique of the Critics

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

O’Sullivan’s critique of the critics of GIS is a good summary of the position that many people hold on the role of GIS in social sciences. The author touches on three items from a research agenda on “GIS and society,” namely the relevance of GIS in grassroots movements, GIS from a feminist perspective, and privacy issues inherent in data collection. Although there is justification for omitting discussions on the remaining four themes from Initiative 19, it would have been interesting to learn about other ways in which people are criticizing—oftentimes constructively—GIS’s role in society.

I am particularly interested in the theme of PGIS (participatory GIS), in part because I am researching VGI (volunteer-generated information) for this course. Beyond the ethical and accuracy concerns—of which I do not deny, there are many—I fail to see how PGIS might be critiqued in a social context. In fact, if the primary concern for the use of GIS in social contexts is power assertions in methods of visualization, then surely a way to collect and visualize information generated by the public is in complete contrast to this fear of authorial bias. Furthermore, if PGIS is largely volunteered (VGI), then ethical concerns are diminished, and if the data is confirmed via an objective algorithm, then the accuracy concerns are also moot. PGIS is, perhaps, the most useful method of real-time data collection possible, and it should be utilized as much as possible. As O’Sullivan notes, it is a way to empower citizens, to give them an equal voice, and I agree completely.

- JMonterey

Power, control and the social construction of place

Friday, March 30th, 2012

When reading the other posts, it seemed that Aitken and Michel’s (1995) article did not receive many positive remarks, mainly for its lack of clarity and vagueness. Perhaps I spent too much time reading marginal continental philosophy this semester that made me more sympathetic to this piece. Although the article is more theory based, it examines pertinent issues of GIS that are still around today. The authors advocate for “all actors involved in the production and consumption of GIS to have some ownership in the creation of GIS knowledge” (17). They question the differences between the ownership of a process and the participation of a process. Power struggles are created when it is certain one group dominates the influence of the outcome over another group. If GIS is identified and examined as social constructions in this article, how will we change power relations to find a more equal (not perfect) opportunity in not only the process of ownership, but also the process of participation? According to the article, “a GIS cannot be divorced from the social context of its creation” (18). So how do we make the groups with ownership rights, socially construct an alternative way of increasing importance, and power to the ones involved in the participation process? One pertinent thing I do find frustrating with critiques is the depressing feeling I am left with after reading them. It is often easier to identify the challenges, rather than find useful and workable solutions.

In addition to ownership, liveware is also a critical component to understanding power relations. It is defined as being comprised of the individuals responsible for the design, implementation and use of GIS, noting that it is hailed as “the most significant part of a GIS” (18). What responsibility and influence does this particular group have on the reality of GIS? How much of it gets convoluted in political agendas, territories (both academic and non-academic) that expect to be defended? How is the misrepresentation of facts, skewing of results, and meeting private agendas accounted for, monitored or, in the most optimistic scenario, eliminated?

“What it is not clear is how the communicative and power structures which develop between the GIS creator and user affect the people whose everyday lives become metrics and data within the system, and whether indeed these people’s voices are heard at all” (18). Do we just get used to these power dynamics? Work our lives around them? I’d like to be a little more positive than this. A lecture inspired me to think otherwise. Andrew Pickering encourages us to “try things… experiment, and mess around with them”; an alternative to being stuck on one idea, or a particular set of definitions (especially when analyzing inequality) that confine us. This way of thinking seemed to parallel Aitken and Michel’s statement that “empirical studies of technological innovation reveal a complex, messy, and nonlinear process” (27). The authors appreciate the flaws of empirical studies, maybe because in some ways, the empirical studies bring the less tinkered with ‘real’ in GIS.

-henry miller

Lost in Hyperspace…

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Aitken and Michel’s article bothered me. Perhaps I read their intentions incorrectly, but as some other posters mentioned, they seem to be slightly overreacting. They spend the paper discussing how GIS can only further empower the hegemony of urban planners: deconstructing the failings of urban planning and those who plan, and making explicit the ways GIS will facilitate the “oppression” and blindsiding of the people whose communities are planned. And yet, GIS as a science, like any science (like planning!), has bias inherent, is limited to those who understand the language, can afford the systems… and yet is carried out nonetheless. And GIS as a tool, (as is implied here), like any tool, is neutral–it can be used for good or for evil, as they say. So I take issue with the constant denigration of the use of GIS as it is today. Wouldn’t any tool be just as dangerous? And haven’t urban planners (and the politicians behind them) been planning for years (without GIS as we know it today) with ill-conceived ideas of how a community should be, how people want to live–if Pruitt Igoe is any evidence, I would argue many have.

Additionally, however, Aitken and Michel wrap up with how “the GIS community may enable those affected by planning contexts to speak for themselves”. This seems perhaps a redemption for GIS. Allowing people who aren’t planners into the equation, expanding the context of GIS, may make it useful after all. But then they sum of with this.

“Clearly, there is a need to demystify the specialized speech and practice of GIS… it is beyond the scope of our discussion to elaborate on how training and access to GIS could be provided to all people affected by a planning context. Nor is it possible for us to delineate fully the myriad of ways the institutional structure would have to be changed in order to accommodate equal access to GIS”.

So they introduce all the problems, but refuse to really address any solutions, and that is where Aitken and Michel lose me in their fight (for?) (against?) GIS.


I sit somewhere between Critical Theory and Problem Solving– As usual…

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

I’m a little torn between some of the views that Aitken and Michel’s article. Like ClimateNYC argued, the article is a little wishy-washy. I think the authors are trying to paint an accurate picture of many of the components that go into GIS as a science. I know personally, I had a lot of trouble dealing with multiple sides when writing my SDSS overview. Although ambiguous in many ways, I do think that this article is thought provoking. They bring up Critical Theorists in order to explain that existing convention can be challenged. Personally, I have a hard time relating to a Critical Theorist because I am pretty realist and I often have a hard time deconstructing reality in order to solve issues. I am more of a problem solver. I agree with the authors when they say that we must continually challenge authority but we don’t have to be as extreme as a CT. I find that by taking a similar approach to problems as a CT but applying them as a problem solver, solutions can be discovered. GIS in the past, has proven to marginalized individuals across the globe—I won’t go into it in detail here, because I’ll speak about this topic on Friday, but as much as GIS has worked to:

1. [legitimize], protect and perpetuate political-economic agendas,

2. exclude or restrict community members from decision-making process, and

3. promote the political and moral illusion that science and technology can ‘solve’ political problems (Hillier 1993, 95)

there have been steps to create interfaces that do the opposites of the above, by re-integrating community members in the planning process. From my research, I feel confident that eventually, with the improvement in HCI, and a more integrated development process, the power that GIS currently possesses will be shared between people in positions of power, and the collective, community.