Tuesday, August 14, 2012


"geocoding of Web content to specific parts of the earth surface
driven by a combination of automatic and user
generated efforts and resulting in a growing body
of content with specific spatial references (Graham et al 2012, 3 citing Turner

The quote above is a definition of "a geospatial Web ( or 'geoweb')" given by Graham et al (2012, 3).  In the past I have made an argument for a plurality of geowebs.  While the paper in which the quote above appears admits the possibility of multiple geowebs, I have yet to see anyone venture the possibility that multiple geowebs currently do exist in different forms and with varying degrees of power over geocoded lives.

The main problem in the above definition for alternate, or even counter-geowebs, lies in the word 'automatic,' and not for the reasons that might be easily inferred.  A counter-geoweb might include automatic elements that counter-map an existing geoweb by overlaying opaquely coded spatial references lacking precise coordinates or obfuscating their origins.

An almost 'artistic' geoweb might then emerge, driven by generalized angst, decentralized protest and hope for a future free from the control of (geo)code.

The word 'automatic' is problematic instead for an alternate geoweb of my own theoretical construction, but not of my own making.  The alternate geoweb (or counter-geoweb) I posit to exist is that of indigenous peoples that has existed from time immemorial, or at least for several thousand years, and many many generations.  The toponymic surfaces of being and place, the depth of place-based knowledge in landscape that, for instance, the Cree have accumulated over centuries are in a sense coded references to specific places that are driven by bottom up processes of knowledge accumulation.

In my PhD dissertation I posited a two part geoweb, one ancient ('traditional') and one postmodern ('local'). Constant references in my reading to 'webs of knowledge' amongst the Cree of eastern James Bay led me to believe that there is no real fundamental difference between older and much newer 'webs of knowledge' (Carlson 2008).  Subsequently I received some reviews challenging my theoretical construction.

Thus, the present blog post.  An ongoing thread of research will involve picking apart differences between indigenous and postmodern ways of knowing, and ways in which the former adopt the latter and vice-versa. A mutually constructed and hybrid 'web of knowledge' is growing as indigenous cultures around the world adopt geosocial media and geospatial technologies in increasingly sophisticated ways.

In the end I do not really have a problem with indigenous knowledge being considered automatic as long as it is not constructed in behavioralist (Skinnerian or Pavlovian) terms.  The 'memetic' aspect of places means that, to a certain extent, geospatial knowledge might indeed be 'automatic' in the sense that, for instance, in wayfaring across the land, the hunter knows how to get from a to b by following an explicit or implicit set of directions or even 'spatial recipes.'  These recipes, explicitly formulated or implicitly copied through performance, facilitate and ease the intergenerational transmission of place based knowledge systems essential for the survival of younger and future generations.

The idea that the Cree, for instance, should use cell phones and GPS to augment such processes should neither shock nor surprise.  Cree, Inuit, and many other northern and indigenous cultures have survived through the generations in less than ideal conditions and in changing environments 'from time immemorial' precisely because they have an ability to seize upon and adapt new technologies to those conditions and environments.

Carlson H  2008  Home is the Hunter  UBC Press, Vancouver

Graham M, Zook M and Boulton A  2012  Augmented Reality in Urban Places: Contested Content and the Duplicity of Code  Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers  Online first in advance of publication.

Turner A  2006  Introduction to Neogeography  O'Reilly, Sebastopol, CA

No comments:

Post a Comment