Different epistemologies

I really enjoyed reading Rostrum’s article titled “GIS, indigenous peoples, and epistemological diversity”. It explores how the use of GIS in cross-cultural contexts, imports with it, a set of ideas and understandings about how the world works, which can intentionally or unwittingly undermine or displace other epistemologies.
I find his ideas particularly interesting in the context of the development of international GIS systems, and the establishments of standards that such systems require. How do you incorporate diverse understandings about the concepts of space and time and elements in nature into a common, standardized system? Is such an endeavour even worthwhile?
I share Rostrum’s concerns over assimilation of peoples and their ideas, but I also see the value in a comprehensive, cross-cultural GIS.
Fundamentally, I think it falls on GIS users, developers and advocates to be actively mindful of such issues, and to expand GIS systems to better account for the diversity of epistemologies (while also recognizing that the structures of GIS may be fundamentally incompatible with some ways of knowing).

Rostrum’s argument echoes concerns over neocolonial tendencies in other academics disciplines, notably demography, cartography, sociology and international development. An active effort on the part of individuals, practitioners and academics is needed to address such issues.


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