Tool or Science?GIS, Technoscience, and the Theoretical Turn

  • Pickles J
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In "Demystifying the Persistent Ambiguity of GIS as 'Tool' versus 'Science,' Dawn Wright, Michael Goodchild, and Jim Proctor suggest that there is a need to put recent debates about GIS in geography on a new footing: the unique role geography plays in GIS means that these debates are "unusually exposed to general view" (p. 346) and are, by implication, damaging to both. Interestingly, the authors quickly put to one side the direct arguments defending or attacking GIS and turn immediately to the "more interesting" social implications of GIS: "the messages it sends, whom it empowers, and the responsibility its developers should bear for its eventual use" (p. 346). For the authors, these debates arise because of "the ambiguity of GIS as a tool or as a science'' (p. 347). Thus, by examining the tension between GIS as a tool and GIS as a science, a tension that ultimately defines what it means to be 'doing GIS' in geography, we hope to shed some light on the issues . . (p. 347). By phrasing the issue in this way and by focusing a complex series of issues on one central question-is GIS merely a tool, is it a tool-making enterprise, or is it a science whose focus is the handling, analysis, and representation of geographic data?-the authors aim to move debate away from a defense of unreconstructed positivism and towards an engagement with issues of importance to contemporary geography. Specifically, they ask us to consider what constitutes science, whether GIS is or is not scientific, and what would be the appropriate theory of science and epistemology for such a geographical information science?

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  • John Pickles

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