All strings attached: Negotiating relationships of geographic information science

Siri Veland*, Amanda Lynch, Zachary Bischoff-Mattson, Lee Joachim, Noor Johnson

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    18 Citations (Scopus)


    Human geography has driven substantive improvements in methodologies and applications of Geographic Information Systems (GISs), yet Indigenous groups continue to experience erasure in geographic representations. GIS ontologies comprise categorised labels that represent lived contexts, and these ontologies are determined through the shared worldviews of those labelling spatial phenomena for entry into GIS databases. Although Western ontologies and spatial representations reflect Western understandings of human experience, they are often inappropriate in Indigenous contexts. In efforts to be represented in courts and land management, Indigenous groups nevertheless need to engage Western spatial representations to 'claim space'. This paper examines what GISs are and do and shows that GIS technology comes with strings attached to the myriad social contexts that continue to shape the field of GIScience. We show that Intellectual Property Rights Agreements can sever and control these 'strings'; the agreement between the Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation and university researchers reframes GIS from a technology of erasure to a technology of opportunity that enables Indigenous groups to define their own engagement. The visual and narrative outputs will contribute important understandings of the environmental crisis facing the Murray-Darling Basin and connect older and younger generations through knowledge sharing. We conclude the application of GIScience is never simply technological but always has potential to empower particular communities. Applying GIS technology to new circumstances is an engagement of new relationships in the social praxis of technology transfer, where worldviews meet and negotiations are made over what exists and how we know.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)296-308
    Number of pages13
    JournalGeographical Research
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


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