Tulloch (2008) Is VGI participation? From vernal pools to video games.

Tulloch (2008) sets out on the daunting quest to determine whether or not volunteered geographic information (VGI) is a form of participation, or more specifically, public participatory GIS (PPGIS).

Tulloch notes that VGI has yet to develop into a “robust literature of its own” (2008: 164). This led me to reflect upon a guest lecture by D. R. Fraser Taylor I attended a few weeks ago on the topic of cybercartography. There seem to be many parallels between VGI and cybercartography e.g. the discourse of power, emphasis on local knowledge and participation, and an appeal to non-expert use. Fraser and his research team compile ‘atlases’ which act as depositories for volunteered local knowledge with explicit geographic content. Ultimately, these ‘atlases’ may reinforce a locally defined counter-narrative. Are Fraser’s atlases simply an application of VGI? How does cybercartography fit into the discourse of VGI? Are they different and competing frameworks or do they evidence the phenomenon of semantic inflation?

It seems that a central component of VGI is the open invitation for participation and the creation of datasets from the ground up. Although the proliferation of VGI may lead to successful development projects, what measure determines if subjects may be better off without VGI & PPGIS? What things, if any, should remain apart from the public sphere? This reminds me of a recent blog post I read on the botany and secrecy: The post describes how botanists withhold the location of endangered and threatened species as a protection strategy.

The features of the Tulloch article that resonate with me are the immense social and political dimensions of VGI and PPGIS. In the context of GIScience—and science as a whole—this challenges the notion that positivism and science go hand-in-hand.



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