Posts Tagged ‘scientific discipline’

Affirming GIScience’s Place in the Academy

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

When we read Michael F. Goodchild’s review of the last 20 years of GIScience, we should be careful to note that he “does not pretend to be entirely objective” (3) in outlining his views. In particular, he goes to great length to argue that GIScience functions as a distinct scientific discipline. Although he does devote some space to the debate over whether GIScience represents a tool or science (4), Goodchild leaves little room for the dissenting view that GIScience could be viewed simply as a tool for other disciplines. In fact, he unequivocally states that the field presents “substantial research issues” that can only be solved by using the methods of GIScience (15-16). Although he calls for other practitioners in the field to reflect on the past 20 years, his aim – both in his manner of treating the subject and in what he writes – appearsĀ  to both define and establish GIScience as a sub-discipline or science in the already jam-packed academy.

In noting GIScience’s establishment, past accomplishments and possible future directions, Goodchild writes there’s “no danger” this area of study will “be absorbed into one of its intersecting disciplines” due to the “well-defined, persistent” nature of the problems that this science addresses (16). Goodchild most clearly lays out his agenda of GIScience as a discipline in Figure 1 (“A Conceptual Framework for GIScience”) by organizing various topics in GIScience according to their relationship with human beings, society or computers. This organization resembles a similar one taking place in many departments whereby researchers attempt to locate their own research questions in terms of where they might sit on a spectrum that includes both human or natural science approaches. It implies the universal, organizing principle of GIScience as a lens through which these questions should be viewed. In fact, Goodchild references the definition of geography as a science (4) before providing several definitions of how GIS also represents a lens or science (6).

As we noted in class, defining GIScience in this manner holds important implications for the discipline and for the universities where it’s taught. Just as the creation of distinct statistics departments or environmental science programs can both shape the educational program for students and the funding opportunities for researchers, Goodchild’s view of GIScience could influence future developments in the field. Having just come from a graduate marine science program that treated GIS only as an important tool worthy of a certificate showing proficiency, I can see how these questions could be central in defining how universities or other fields treat GIScience as it grows and evolves.

– climateNYC