Exploring GIS as a Tool and Science

Wright’s exploration of GIS as a tool and a science still serves as satisfactory synopsis for a debate than began more than twenty years ago. In 1993, the internet was merely an ember of what would become a large inferno of constant discussion and diffusion of knowledge. This particular scholarly explores an informal conversation on the GIS-L electronic listserver, which took place in 1993 between GIS enthusiasts, academics, and frankly whoever felt the inclination to participate. This informality fueled Wright’s desire to write a formal scholarly article on the topic.

Wright et al.  delve into the main body of the discussion: Can we classify GIS as a science, or as an analytics tool? The latter implies that GIS is not legitimatized as its own field and is merely adopted to fields and disciplines to “advance the investigation of a problem,” while the former implies GIS is a synthesis of many Geographic disciplines possessing its own potential for theoretical advances and progression (1997: 355). Proponents of the scientific viewpoint denounce the tool-centric view as limiting, asserting that GIS has its own issues independent of the applications it is used for.


I was unaware of the debate surrounding the topic of GIS, and also unaware of the limitations of my tool-centric view. The view that Wright et al. arrive at in which they describe GIS and its users as a spectrum of tool users, tool makers, and scientists (I struggle to define/understand this last group) lends credibility to all aspects of GI science without highlighting the need for definition or denouncing any of the three viewpoints.



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