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, Equity, and Social Justice Best Practices 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-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.

GS-14 - GIS and Critical Ethics

This entry discusses and defines ethical critiques and GIS. It complements other GIS&T Body of Knowledge entries on Professional and Practical Ethics and Codes of Ethics for GIS Professionals. Critical ethics is presented as the attempt to provide a better understanding of data politics. Knowledge is never abstract or non-material. Spatial data, as a form of knowledge, may mask, conceal, disallow or disavow, even as it speaks, permits and claims. A critical ethics of GIS investigates this situated power-knowledge. Two concepts from educational pedagogy are suggested: threshold and troublesome knowledge. As we use and continue to learn GIS, these concepts may enrich our experience by usefully leading us astray. This points finally to how ethical critique is practical, empirical and political, rather than abstract or theoretical.

GS-29 - GIS Participatory Modeling

Participatory research is increasingly used to better understand complex social-environmental problems and design solutions through diverse and inclusive stakeholder engagement. A growing number of approaches are helping to foster co-production of knowledge among diverse stakeholders. However, most methods don’t allow stakeholders to directly interact with the models that often drive environmental decision-making. Geospatial participatory modeling (GPM) is an approach that engages stakeholders in co-development and interpretation of models through dynamic geovisualization and simulations. GPM can be used to represent dynamic landscape processes and spatially explicit management scenarios, such as land use change or climate adaptation, enhancing opportunities for co-learning. GPM can provide multiple benefits over non-spatial approaches for participatory research processes, by (a) personalizing connections to problems and their solutions, (b) resolving abstract notions of connectivity, and (c) clarifying the scales of drivers, data, and decision-making authority. An adaptive, iterative process of model development, sharing, and revision can drive innovation of methods, improve model realism or applicability, and build capacity for stakeholders to leverage new knowledge gained from the process. This co-production of knowledge enables participants to more fully understand problems, evaluate the acceptability of trade-offs, and build buy-in for management actions in the places where they live and work.

GS-22 - Implications of distributed GIS&T
  • Describe the advantages and disadvantages to an organization in using GIS portal information from other organizations
  • Describe how inter-organization GIS portals may impact or influence issues related to social equity, privacy and data access
  • Discuss how distributed GIS&T may affect the nature of organizations and relationships among institutions
  • Suggest the possible societal and ethical implications of distributed GIS&T
GS-23 - Legal mechanisms for sharing geospatial information
  • Describe contracts, licenses, and other mechanisms for sharing geospatial data
  • Outline the terms of a licensing agreement with a local engineering consulting firm that a manager of a county government GIS office would employ if charged to recoup revenue through sale and licensure of county data
GS-03 - Liability
  • Describe the nature of tort law generally and nuisance law specifically
  • Describe strategies for managing liability risk, including disclaimers and data quality standards
  • Describe cases of liability claims associated with misuse of geospatial information, erroneous information, and loss of proprietary interests
  • Differentiate among contract liability, tort liability, and statutory liability
GS-04 - Location Privacy

How effective is this fence at keeping people, objects, or sensitive information inside or outside? Location Privacy is concerned with the claim of individuals to determine when, how, and to what extent information about themselves and their location is communicated to others. Privacy implications for spatial data are growing in importance with growing awareness of the value of geo-information and the advent of the Internet of Things, Cloud-Based GIS, and Location Based Services.  

In the rapidly changing landscape of GIS and public domain spatial data, issues of location privacy are more important now than ever before. Technological trailblazing tends to precede legal safeguards. The development of GIS tools and the work of the GIS&T research and user community have typically occurred at a much faster rate than the establishment of legislative frameworks governing the use of spatial data, including privacy concerns. Yet even in a collaborative environment that characterizes the GIS&T community, and despite progress made, the issue of location privacy is a particularly thorny one, occurring as it does at the intersection of geotechnology and society.

GS-26 - Mapping Spatial Justice for Marginal Societies

Marginal populations are those populations that are often overlooked by government, dependent upon non-governmental aid, and lack access to basic resources such as water, food, shelter, and security.  However, these groups are increasingly included in partnerships to map their resources (or lack thereof), develop basic applications in geospatial data collection, and devise innovative approaches to participatory mapping using geospatial technologies to address local and regional problems. Rapid technological changes and increased access to mobile geospatial tools enhance data creation efforts to map marginal populations and identify their needs. However, such mapping activities reveal fundamental inequities in collecting, disseminating, and visualizing spatial data.  This chapter defines marginal populations and provides an overview of data needs, geospatial tools, and ethical obligations necessary for these partnerships.

GS-08 - Mechanisms of control of geospatial information
  • Distinguish among the various intellectual property rights, including copyright, patent, trademark, business methods, and other rights
  • Explain how databases may be protected under U.S. copyright law
  • Describe advantages and disadvantages of “open” alternatives to copyright protection, such as the Creative Commons
  • Outline the intellectual property protection clause of a contract that a local government uses to license geospatial data to a community group
  • Explain how maps may be protected under U.S. copyright law
  • Differentiate geospatial information from other works protected under copyright law
GS-19 - Political influences
  • Recognize the constraints that political forces place on geospatial applications in public and private sectors
  • Evaluate the influences of political ideologies (e.g., Marxism, Capitalism, conservative/liberal) on the understanding of geographic information
  • Evaluate the influences of political actions, especially the allocation of territory, on human perceptions of space and place