Sunday, March 8, 2015

Top Ten Critical GIS Papers of All Time

See the previous post on the top ten critical GIS books of all time, and you will notice some overlap. The first list did not include Rundstrom, Chrisman, Sparke, Kwan, Haklay, Leszczynski, or Kitchin.  These are the papers that changed the playing fields of critical GIS and geography.  4 of them appeared in Annals AAG.

Critical GIS took off a few years after the Wood/Harley revolution in the mid-1980s to early 1990s.  There was a half-decade of contentious debate (or all-out battle) between 'positivist' GIS-types, and human geographers that was never really resolved.  However, the work of feminist GIS academics went a long way towards bridging the gap, as reflected in the list below starting around 2002.

1. Rundstrom Robert  1995  GIS, Indigenous Peoples and Epistemological Diversity  Cartography and Geographic Information Systems  22 (1) 45-57

Along with Ground Truth, this publication changed my life.  In my naive (at the time) way, I couldn't believe that anyone had thought the same thought as me.  As a budding GIS technician and future geography post-grad I didn't trust my own thoughts enough to verbalize them or write them down.  Rundstrom gave me the confidence to do so, and I started quoting this paper extensively in 2001 through to my master's degree at Carleton University in 2005.  It is still the key text in critical and indigenous GIS.  The author is a professor at the University of Oklahoma (Norman).

2. Wright Dawn  Goodchild Michael and Proctor James  1997  Demystifying the Persistent Ambiguity of GIS as 'Tool' vs. 'Science'  Annals of the Association of American Geographers  87 (2)  346-62

I love the idea of ambiguity in GIS. At a time when GIS wars were all about binary oppositions and divides between the critical-human and the positivist-GIS views, a dose of ambiguity and/or blurring was necessary.  This paper is still very useful in a pedagogical sense.  I introduce it into my critical GIS and the geoweb class and ask students to tell my why they think GIS is a tool or a science.  Reasons given for why they think so are often fascinating, and go to the heart of philosophies of computing, technology, and society (which might start me waxing poetic about Turing and artificial intelligence or some such thing).  It is a great discussion-starter.

3. Brealey Ken  1995  Mapping Them Out: Euro-Canadian Cartography and the Appropriation of the Nuxalt and Ts'ilqot'in First Nations' Territories  The Canadian Geographer  39 (2) 140-56

Brealey was overshadowed by Cole Harris, but this paper and another by Brealey (published in BC Studies about Peter O'Reilly) are excellent.  It's a shame he hasn't published more.  Mapping Them Out was heavily influenced by Harley, but it made the application to BC First Nations explicit and was, therefore, essential to me in my early days as critical GIS practitioner.

4. Sparke Matthew  1998  A Map That Roared and an Original Atlas: Canada, Cartography, and the Narration of Nation  Annals of the Association of American Geographers  88 (3)  463-95

This paper made much of Edward Said's concept of contrapuntal cartographies (from Culture and Imperialism) and, thus, served as my introduction to post-colonial theory (and Said in particular).  It also had the somewhat unfortunate effect of getting me 'into' Homi Bhabha a bit which, upon later reflection, never really proved to be that productive.  A Map That Roared is an absolutely essential paper.  Sparke's book In The Space of Theory is one of my all-time favourite books of geographical theory.

5. Kwan Mei-Po  2002  Feminist Visualization: Re-envisioning GIS as a Method in Feminist Geographic Research  Annals of the Association of American Geographers 92 (4) 645-61

Around the time Schuurman published her thesis in Cartographica critical GIS took a turn for the better.  That turn took us directly into feminist territory.  Kwan led the way in the sense that she produced theoretically sophisticated, but very tool-grounded, geospatial visualisations of women's lives.

6. Schuurman Nadine  2006 Formalization Matters: Critical GIS and Ontology Research  Annals of the Association of American Geographers  96 (4) 726-739

The leader in critical GIS in all current forms, Schuurman's ontology paper was published at a time when 'ontologies' (in the engineering sense) was beginning to take off.  She clarifies the ontology/ontologies distinction (one is concerned with philosophy of existence; the other with object-worlds).  She also makes a very cogent point about the ontological status of map legends.

7. Chrisman Nicholas and Harvey Francis  2005  Full Circle: More Than Just Social Implications of GIS  Cartographica  40 (4)  23-35

I first met Nick Chrisman at a Spatial Knowledge and Information (SKI) conference in Fernie BC (this was also, as it happens, where I first met Nadine Schuurman).  My paper on Unearthing Google received its first question from Nick.  He advised me (as, he told me, he had advised his student Francis Harvey) to 'forget about the cyborg.'  I couldn't do this.  What I didn't realize at the time was that Chrisman had been part of an original group responsible for what came to be ESRI's ArcGIS.  See his book Charting the Unknown, which tells the story of how computer graphics at Harvard became (rightfully) the industry-leader for GIS.  It is interesting to read in light of current developments: mapping in the cloud and QGIS.

8. Kitchin Rob and Dodge Martin 2007  Rethinking Maps  Progress in Human Geography  31 (3) 331-44

I first met Rob Kitchin at last year's RGS meeting at Imperial College London.  He is a very friendly person and a convincing speaker.  I had critically reviewed his (also with Dodge) Code/Space in Cartographica a couple of years before, which made me feel a bit self-conscious.  However, it was very useful and timely to hear about his new book The Data Revolution, and especially new thinking around data/code assemblages.  A sophisticated thinker, and leader in the field. Rethinking Maps takes a processual view of cartography that is post-representational, ontological, and in-tune with new developments in online mapping.

9. Leszczynski Agnieszka  2012  Situating the Geoweb in Political Economy  Progress in Human Geography  36 (1) 72-89

This is one of the first deeply critical papers to directly address political aspects of the geoweb (as defined by Scharl and Tochtermann in their groundbreaking The Geospatial Web).  But while that text was ever so slightly triumphalist in tone, and a bit uncritical; Agnieszka's paper pulled no punches.  It is the definitive statement on how un-neutral the geoweb is; the question of neutrality in mapping, GIS, technology, and the geoweb is both ambiguous and persistent and will not go away.  Therefore we need papers like this, and this one serves as a model of how to publish critical geographical thoughts.

10. Haklay Mordechai  2013  Neogeography and the Delusion of Democratisation  Environment and Planning A  45 (1) 55-69

I first met Muki at the Association of American Geographers meeting in Las Vegas (pre-2010).  He has since flourished at UCL and is a leader in geographical information science (he is in an engineering department). This paper is required reading for my Practising Sustainable Development and ICT4D students at Royal Holloway.  It gets them thinking about how all these wonderful mapping platforms produce social implications and power structures among those whom they propose to help.

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