UBC Theses and Dissertations
Critical GIS : theorizing an emerging science Schuurman, Nadine Cato
This research takes as its starting point the past decade of critiques from human geographers, and proposes an alternate model for appraisals of technology. The first section begins with an analysis of the bases and motivation of external assessments of GIS. A historiographical account reveals that the critical impulse among human geographers was not static, but evolved to incorporate greater subtlety based on cooperation with GIS scholars. Critiques from human geographers, nevertheless, had a profound impact on the discipline, and practitioners of GIS frequently felt that their perspectives on issues including the roots of GIS, its epistemological bases, and its ethics had been undervalued by critics. A re-analysis of critiques, from the perspectives of GIS practitioners, investigates objections to critical accounts of the technology. The second half of the research builds upon existing critiques and responses to them, but asks the question, "is there a more constructive means to engage with technology, from a theoretical perspective?" Two contemporary research questions in GIS are investigated, as a means of establishing a preliminary methodology for critique that engages with GIS at a conceptual, as well as a technical level. Factors that have influenced the progress of automated generalization are examined in some detail. The argument is made that both social and digital parameters define the technology, and it is unproductive to focus on one at the expense of the other. The second research question concerns data models and the extent to which fields and objects are inevitable. The case is made that a web of historical and scientific justification has prevented researchers from seeking alternatives to the atomic and plenum views of space. Finally, an appeal is made for continued theoretical examination of the technology as part of an effort to develop geographic information science.
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