Posts Tagged ‘critical theory’

I sit somewhere between Critical Theory and Problem Solving– As usual…

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

I’m a little torn between some of the views that Aitken and Michel’s article. Like ClimateNYC argued, the article is a little wishy-washy. I think the authors are trying to paint an accurate picture of many of the components that go into GIS as a science. I know personally, I had a lot of trouble dealing with multiple sides when writing my SDSS overview. Although ambiguous in many ways, I do think that this article is thought provoking. They bring up Critical Theorists in order to explain that existing convention can be challenged. Personally, I have a hard time relating to a Critical Theorist because I am pretty realist and I often have a hard time deconstructing reality in order to solve issues. I am more of a problem solver. I agree with the authors when they say that we must continually challenge authority but we don’t have to be as extreme as a CT. I find that by taking a similar approach to problems as a CT but applying them as a problem solver, solutions can be discovered. GIS in the past, has proven to marginalized individuals across the globe—I won’t go into it in detail here, because I’ll speak about this topic on Friday, but as much as GIS has worked to:

1. [legitimize], protect and perpetuate political-economic agendas,

2. exclude or restrict community members from decision-making process, and

3. promote the political and moral illusion that science and technology can ‘solve’ political problems (Hillier 1993, 95)

there have been steps to create interfaces that do the opposites of the above, by re-integrating community members in the planning process. From my research, I feel confident that eventually, with the improvement in HCI, and a more integrated development process, the power that GIS currently possesses will be shared between people in positions of power, and the collective, community.


Is GIS a Science or a Tool in Planning-Information-Critical Theory

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

So, I had a few problems with the article by Stuart Aitken and Suzanne Michel. First, I felt like the authors danced around the delicate topic of whether GIS operates as a tool or as a science in a way that was detrimental to understanding their article. Second, I wondered about applying Habermas’s theories to the idea of “planning” by making it a consensus built on mutual understanding and arrived at through respectful communication.

But let me back up, first, and give a brief summary of the article. The authors frame their writing as being in response to the troubling idea that GIS is defined solely outside of social constructions that “bolsters a rational-instrument discourse in planning” (17). In contrast, they believe GIS to be a “socially constructed” technology (27) that when used in planning should not impose one person’s agenda on others (24). As such, they worry that some GIS lord sits on high, owns the process of planning, and only allows others to engage with GIS as participants rather than having any ownership of the planning process. Such a process risks defining GIS theoretically in such a manner that makes it an exclusive field of scientific research or practice.

How the author’s defines GIS as a science or tool could potentially be very important in the discussion I describe above because it seems to be wishy-washy in terms of their view of it. On the one hand, they talk about GIS in terms of the planning process and how administrators and others use it to aid in planning of development or other projects. In this sense, it appears to be a tool. However, when the authors get into discussing Habermas, they start to deal with GIS as a field of research that has underlying theories, and to argue for a more inclusive field that includes disparate voices. In this sense, they argue for merging the academic and professional worlds into the world of everyday experience – which I agree with – in order to give average folks ownership over the field of GIS and how it operates.

So, this brings us back to the question that could easily be answered if they define GIS as tool or science. How does planning become an open, inclusive process? If we’re thinking about GIS as a field of research, it’s got unique potential to include a variety of user inputs or applied insights. In many cases, planners and those responsible for making decisions about urban plans do utilize GIS in this manner to gain insight into how better to make their decisions. I mean just look at this video where GIS applications are used in urban planning decisions acroos Addis Ababa. Plus, it’s got some good music.

Yet, I can’t help remember the days I spent as a political reporter and the dread I felt covering county votes on comprehensive land-use plans or even planning commission meetings. These meetings were almost always exclusive to those in charge (Ok, I guess the elected officials did answer in some manner to those who elect them) and subject to the prevailing views of whoever those in power might be. Sometimes, unfortunate homeowners who wanted to build something not accounted for in county plans might have been subjected to some type of harassment by the planning commission or, otherwise, be included if they could justify their new add-on to their jumbo mansion. On really good days, the planning decision might be incredibly divisive (since I worked in Northern Virginia, this mostly only occured when slow growth advocates were pitted against pro-growth folks) and the decision-makers had to come down with some type of politically defensible decision.

But the point is clear. While GIS as a science might have the potential (and in many cases is already) democratic, the planning process in many urban localities is far from it – at least not beyond the sense of being representiationally democratic. So, can GIS bridge this gap? Maybe. But I guess it depends on whether you view it as a science or a just a tool for some government planning board.