Placing GIS in a box: Wright or Wrong?

We naturally gravitate towards labeling things, placing them in categories so as to make our world a more organized and orderly one and GIS (geographic information systems) are no exception to this way of thinking. In the article titled “GIS: Tool or Science?” Wright et. al, address the “ambiguity of GIS as a tool or as a science”, introducing in third position of GIS as a toolmaker with advancements in capabilities and usability.

Albeit a trivial question, it speaks to the identity crisis GIS and its practitioners may have experienced in its early years, and even still today. The implications of whether GIS is a tool, tool-maker or a science are wide spread. Most noticeably for the quest for academic legitimacy of GIS as a science – as a student without this legitimacy what place does my GIS-related or GIS-driven research have, if any?

It was a sound article that effectively introduced the three positions. I feel it lent itself more as prompt to engage the reader in the on-going conversation sparked by the online forum discussion that tackled the issue back in 1993. A lot can happen in 20 years, I do wonder what would the GIS community and others would have to say on the topic over a decade since the publication of this journal article. The Journal of Geographical Information Systems publishing since 2009 perhaps satisfies the academic merit GIS would need to be considered a science by some of the forum participators. This said, I would say that Wright’s proposition that the phenomena of GIS is ‘a continuum between tool and science’ rings strong and true today.  My response to the question, you may ask? D. All of the above, GIS is ever evolving, and can’t be placed in a discrete category.

– Othello

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