GIS privilege

Sahay, S. & Robey, D. (1996) “Organizational Context, Social Interpretation, and the Implementation and Consequences of Geographic Information Systems”. Accounting, Management & Information Technology, 6(4): 255-282.

Sahay & Robey (1996) find that geographic information systems (GIS), as a social constructed technologies, are subject to diverse social interpretations. Moreover, they argue that GIS has a plurality of definitions, meanings, and applications due to the numerous groups that encounter the GIS technologies (255). To say that a GIS has been implemented is therefore much more than plugging in a computer and running an application.

The authors acknowledge that GISs are a unique case of relational information systems, corroborating the spatial is special argument. In the case study, Sahay & Robey discover that educational background affects the integration of GIS into the workplace. Formal education in geography—emphasizing a geospatial outlook on the world—created the fertile environment for GIS implementation to take hold. I would argue that early exposure to the “common language” of GIS users, “speaking in terms of latitude, longitude, geo-coding, and other geographical concepts” puts geographers at a distinct advantage (268). In contrast, the tech-savvy computer scientists of the South County were at a considerable disadvantage. One technician remarked that he had never worked with graphics before (272). This would definitely skew the conclusions of Sahay & Robey’s research. GIS privileges some groups above others.

This paper considers differences in GIS implementation at an organizational level, but it forgoes socioeconomic and cultural complexity. As this paper was written in 1996, I presume the global entrainment of GIS technologies would largely have been limited to the governments of developed countries. In a contemporary version of this paper I would like to see the transgression of the barrier between the developed world and the developing world. I suspect that economic and social factors will be more pronounced in developing countries and the risks of adoption will have greater repercussions.


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