GIS&T and Society

The connections and interactions between GIS&T and society range in scale from institutions and business enterprises down to the individual level. Some fundamental drivers behind those interconnections are political, economic, legal, and cultural. Rapidly developing GI technology and infrastructures also generate various forms of public GIS practice as part of citizen science, VGI and social media. These activities provoke questions and critiques around governance, democracy, diversity, and ethics.

Topics in this Knowledge Area are listed thematically below. Existing topics are linked directly to either their original (2006) or revised entries; forthcoming, future topics are italicized. 

Law, Regulation, and Policy Governance and Agency
The Legal Regime Public Participation GIS
Location Privacy Professional & Practical Ethics of GIS&T
Mechanisms of Control of Geospatial Information Codes of Ethics for Geospatial Professionals
Legal Mechanisms for Sharing Geospatial Info Aggregation of Spatial Entities (with focus on Legislative Redistricting)
GIS&T for Equity and Social Justice Implications of Distributed GIS&T
  Citizen Science with GIS&T
Critical Perspectives GIS&T and Spatial Decision Support
Epistemological Critiques Mapping Spatial Justice for Marginal Societies
GIS and Critical Ethics GIS&T and Community Engagement
Feminist Critiques of GIS Geospatial Participatory Modeling
Balancing Security & Open Access to Geospatial Data  

 

GS-20 - Aggregation of Spatial Entities and Legislative Redistricting

The partitioning of space is an essential consideration for the efficient allocation of resources. In the United States and many other countries, this parcelization of sub-regions for political and legislative purposes results in what is referred to as districts. A district is an aggregation of smaller, spatially bound units, along with their statistical properties, into larger spatially-bound units. When a district has the primary purpose of representation, individuals who reside within that district make up a constituency. Redistricting is often required as populations of constituents shift over time or resources that service areas change. Administrative challenges with creating districts have been greatly aided by increasing utilization of GIS. However, with these advances in geospatial methods, political disputes with the way in which districts increasingly snare the process in legal battles often centered on the topic of gerrymandering. This chapter focuses on the redistricting process within the United States and how the aggregation of representative spatial entities presents a mix of political, technical and legal challenges.

GS-21 - Balancing security and open access to geospatial information
  • Discuss the way that a legal regime balances the need for security of geospatial data with the desire for open access
GS-24 - Citizen Science with GIS&T

Figure 1. Participant in a BioBlitz records bird observation (Source: Jo Somerfield)

 

Citizen Science is defined as the participation of non-professional volunteers in scientific projects (Dickson et al, 2010) and has experienced rapid growth over the past decade. The projects that are emerging in this area range from contributory projects, co-created projects, collegiate projects, which are initiated and run by a group of people with shared interest, without any involvement of professional scientists.  

In many citizen science projects, GIS&T is enabling the collection, analysis, and visualisation of spatial data to affect decision-making. Some examples may include:

  • Recording the location of invasive species or participating in a BioBlitz to record local biodiversity (Figure 1).
  • Measuring air quality or noise over a large area and over time to monitor local conditions and address them
  • Using tools to educate on and increase access to local resources,  improving community resilience

Such projects have the opportunity to empower or disempower members of the public, depending upon access to and understanding of technology. Citizen Science projects using GIS&T may help communities influence decision makers and support the gathering of large-scale scientific evidence on a range of issues. This may also renew people’s interests in the sciences and foster continued and lifelong learning. 

 

GS-17 - Common-sense geographies
  • Identify common-sense views of geographic phenomena that sharply contrast with established theories and technologies of geographic information
  • Differentiate applications that can make use of common-sense principles of geography from those that should not
  • Collaborate with non-GIS experts who use GIS to design applications that match commonsense understanding to an appropriate degree
  • Effectively communicate the design, procedures, and results of GIS projects to non-GIS audiences (clients, managers, general public)
  • Evaluate the impact of geospatial technologies (e.g., Google Earth) that allow non-geospatial professionals to create, distribute, and map geographic information
GS-02 - Contract law
  • Differentiate “contracts for service” from “contracts of service”
  • Discuss potential legal problems associated with licensing geospatial information
  • Identify the liability implications associated with contracts
GS-18 - Cultural influences
  • Collaborate effectively with colleagues of differing social backgrounds in developing balanced GIS applications
  • Describe the ways in which the elements of culture (e.g., language, religion, education, traditions) may influence the understanding and use of geographic information
  • Recognize the impact of one’s social background on one’s own geographic worldview and perceptions and how it influences one’s use of GIS
GS-09 - Enforcing control
  • Explain the concept of “fair use” with regard to geospatial information
  • Describe defenses against various claims of copyright infringement
  • Discuss ways in which copyright infringements may be remedied
  • Identify types of copyright infringement
GS-13 - Epistemological critiques

As GIS became a firmly established presence in geography and catalysed the emergence of GIScience, it became the target of a series of critiques regarding modes of knowledge production that were perceived as problematic. The first wave of critiques charged GIS with resuscitating logical positivism and its erroneous treatment of social phenomena as indistinguishable from natural/physical phenomena. The second wave of critiques objected to GIS on the basis that it was a representational technology. In the third wave of critiques, rather than objecting to GIS simply because it represented, scholars engaged with the ways in which GIS represents natural and social phenomena, pointing to the masculinist and heteronormative modes of knowledge production that are bound up in some, but not all, uses and applications of geographic information technologies. In response to these critiques, GIScience scholars and theorists positioned GIS as a critically realist technology by virtue of its commitment to the contingency of representation and its non-universal claims to knowledge production in geography. Contemporary engagements of GIS epistemologies emphasize the epistemological flexibility of geospatial technologies.

GS-12 - Ethics for Certified Geospatial Professionals

This entry discusses ethics for certified geospatial professional, focusing on the Codes of Ethics for the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) and the GIS Certification Institute (GISCI). The entry begins by defining and discussing ethics, while providing some history of the evolution of ethics in the GIS community. It then compares and contrasts the ethical guidelines of GISCI and ASPRS, including sanctions that may be imposed upon individuals who have violated their codes of ethics. The entry concludes with a discussion of how certified professionals may address situations in which their codes of ethics may conflict with their employers’ proprietary interests.

GS-15 - Feminist Critiques of GIS

Feminist interactions with GIS started in the 1990s in the form of strong critiques against GIS inspired by feminist and postpositivist theories. Those critiques mainly highlighted a supposed epistemological dissonance between GIS and feminist scholarship. GIS was accused of being shaped by positivist and masculinist epistemologies, especially due to its emphasis on vision as the principal way of knowing. In addition, feminist critiques claimed that GIS was largely incompatible with positionality and reflexivity, two core concepts of feminist theory. Feminist critiques of GIS also discussed power issues embedded in GIS practices, including the predominance of men in the early days of the GIS industry and the development of GIS practices for the military and surveillance purposes.

At the beginning of the 21st century, feminist geographers reexamined those critiques and argued against an inherent epistemological incompatibility between GIS methods and feminist scholarship. They advocated for a reappropriation of GIS by feminist scholars in the form of critical feminist GIS practices. The critical GIS perspective promotes an unorthodox, reconstructed, and emancipatory set of GIS practices by critiquing dominant approaches of knowledge production, implementing GIS in critically informed progressive social research, and developing postpositivist techniques of GIS. Inspired by those debates, feminist scholars did reclaim GIS and effectively developed feminist GIS practices.

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