GIS as Toolmaking

Wright et al. question whether or not GIS can withstand the stress of such varied usages, which demand that “critical analysis and reflection extend beyond the techniques of toolmaking to encompass questions about the social responsibilities of toolmaking” (p. 356). In a bid to assert its role within the scientific community, GIScience has arguably relegated many aspects of human geography to the sidelines. In terms of gaining access to sources of funding, it is understandable that many would take this position, since incorporating the values and varying perceptions of human beings might be considered a ‘soft’ science.

Despite this, perhaps distancing itself from traditional notions of ‘value-free’ science is where GIS finds its strength. It seems as if our understanding of human geography may be muddied by scientific theories, which have the ability to prove contradicting opinions. Look at the climate change debate, for example, which may seem to only involve ‘hard’ science, but is complicated by the fact that it directly involves the way in which people live. Is it possible for this kind of science to be effectively applied to dynamic societies when the need for social change is present?

When GIS projects are developed, they are able to consider their intended use and the values of those affected throughout every stage. A project aimed at improving Montreal’s accessibility for disabled people, for instance, may incorporate a variety of perceptions of the city, which change depending on season, age, level of disability, etc. It is possible that through improvements in technology and our ability to graphically represent many ways of seeing the world, GIS as toolmaking allows us to include the societal effects as best as we can.

Wright, Dawn J, Michael F. Goodchild, and James D. Proctor. (1997). “ForumGIS: Tool or Science?: Demystifying the Persistent Ambiguity of GIS As ‘Tool’ Versus ‘Science’”.  Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 87,2, 346-362.

– jeremy

Comments are closed.