Posts Tagged ‘power’

Power, control and the social construction of place

Friday, March 30th, 2012

When reading the other posts, it seemed that Aitken and Michel’s (1995) article did not receive many positive remarks, mainly for its lack of clarity and vagueness. Perhaps I spent too much time reading marginal continental philosophy this semester that made me more sympathetic to this piece. Although the article is more theory based, it examines pertinent issues of GIS that are still around today. The authors advocate for “all actors involved in the production and consumption of GIS to have some ownership in the creation of GIS knowledge” (17). They question the differences between the ownership of a process and the participation of a process. Power struggles are created when it is certain one group dominates the influence of the outcome over another group. If GIS is identified and examined as social constructions in this article, how will we change power relations to find a more equal (not perfect) opportunity in not only the process of ownership, but also the process of participation? According to the article, “a GIS cannot be divorced from the social context of its creation” (18). So how do we make the groups with ownership rights, socially construct an alternative way of increasing importance, and power to the ones involved in the participation process? One pertinent thing I do find frustrating with critiques is the depressing feeling I am left with after reading them. It is often easier to identify the challenges, rather than find useful and workable solutions.

In addition to ownership, liveware is also a critical component to understanding power relations. It is defined as being comprised of the individuals responsible for the design, implementation and use of GIS, noting that it is hailed as “the most significant part of a GIS” (18). What responsibility and influence does this particular group have on the reality of GIS? How much of it gets convoluted in political agendas, territories (both academic and non-academic) that expect to be defended? How is the misrepresentation of facts, skewing of results, and meeting private agendas accounted for, monitored or, in the most optimistic scenario, eliminated?

“What it is not clear is how the communicative and power structures which develop between the GIS creator and user affect the people whose everyday lives become metrics and data within the system, and whether indeed these people’s voices are heard at all” (18). Do we just get used to these power dynamics? Work our lives around them? I’d like to be a little more positive than this. A lecture inspired me to think otherwise. Andrew Pickering encourages us to “try things… experiment, and mess around with them”; an alternative to being stuck on one idea, or a particular set of definitions (especially when analyzing inequality) that confine us. This way of thinking seemed to parallel Aitken and Michel’s statement that “empirical studies of technological innovation reveal a complex, messy, and nonlinear process” (27). The authors appreciate the flaws of empirical studies, maybe because in some ways, the empirical studies bring the less tinkered with ‘real’ in GIS.

-henry miller