A Critique of the Critics

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

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