Order from Noise: Toward a Social Theory of Geographic Information

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In the so-called Information Age, it is surprising that the concept of information is imprecisely defined and almost taken for granted. Historic and recent geographic information science (GIScience) literature relies on two conflicting metaphors, often espoused by the same author in adjacent paragraphs. The metaphor of invariance, derived from telecommunications engineering, defines information as a thing to be transported without loss through a conduit. Another metaphor, originating in the utopian movements of the 19th century, locates information within a hierarchy of refinement—a stopping place on the path to convert mere data into higher forms of knowledge and perhaps to wisdom. Both metaphors rely on long-forgotten debates outside geography and preclude us from seeing that there are important social and ethical concerns in the relationship between geographic information technologies and society. We examine the conflicts between competing metaphors and propose a social theory of geographic information.

Keywords: GIScience; cybernetics; geographic information; history of GIS

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8306.2006.00703.x

Affiliations: 1: U.S. Geological Survey 2: Université Laval

Publication date: September 1, 2006

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