Cultural Sensitivities in GIScience

Technologies and ways of thinking vary widely between cultures. While I celebrate the great opportunities offered by the innovation of GIS I have never until now considered the implication of western-based geographic knowledge practices in other cultural context. Rundstrom raises crucial questions by reviewing the ways in which Eurocentric GIS is an assimilating technology with relation to North American indigenous groups.

The way geographical knowledge is stored and shared in Euro-North American realms differs from that of indigenous peoples. The danger arises when these differences have a negative impact on indigenous geographic knowledge systems, or when Euro-centric technologies such as explicit map objects or GIS are used as tools of exploitation.

From our (Eurocentric) point of view – “GIS is […] touted as a democratizing technology that can empower anyone in society”. We marvel at the ability for information to be shared for use by all. This however makes indigenous knowledge tangible and accessible. Indigenous societies bestow more care in the decision of who can receive geographic knowledge, and even store knowledge through oral communication and performance-based modes that are foreign to us. For them, information is intentionally shared in circles of interdependency rather than full democracy in complex systems far different from the context within which GIS western-based GIS was created. There is a clear incompatibility that must be addressed when we don’t stop to ask the question: “Who knows what people do with information?”.

How then do we respond? I am unsure of how GIS can evolve to remain effective while better preserving and upholding the culture of others. While I there is a clear need for deep self-reflection concerning the assimilating force that GIS holds today, our ways of thinking also hold value and cannot be entirely sacrificed.

– Othello


Comments are closed.