New spatial technologies, new social practices: a critical theory of the geoweb

Sarah Elwood

Abstract


Geography, GIScience, and society at large continue to grapple with the implications of newly emerging geospatial
media – an ever-expanding range of interactive Internet and mobile technologies that enable collection,
compilation, mapping, and dissemination of spatial data by vast numbers of people. The so-called ‘geoweb’
presents fundamental challenges for three or more decades of GIScience theory and practice developed in
relation to conventional geographic information systems, and re-situates a number of the concerns of critical
GIS scholars with regard to the societal significance of geospatial data and technologies. In this paper, I show
how some of the longstanding concerns of critical GIS scholarship can illuminate several of the fundamental
arenas of societal transformation stemming from the geoweb: Global and local social relations around privacy
and surveillance, socio-technological practices of activism and civic engagement, and the education of citizens
prepared to engage a geoweb world. I use examples from my own recent research in each of these arenas
to characterize the specific nature and implications of these transformations and to point to the pervasive
presence of social, political, and technological inequalities in each arena. One of the most important legacies
of critical GIS scholarship to carry forward into geoweb research and practice is its deep attention to and intervention
in inequalities and exclusions wrought through digital spatial data and technologies. Creating a more
just society in the face of new spatial technologies demands our ongoing effort to sustain these commitments.

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© 2012 Fränkische Geographische Gesellschaft
Mitteilungen der Fränkischen Geographischen Gesellschaft (ISSN 0071-8173)
Unterstützt vom Institut für Geographie, Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU)