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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-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-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.