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Accepted Paper:

For an Ethnography of GIS  


David Jonathan Garcia (University of Canterbury)

Paper short abstract:

If mapping has been used by ethnographers in studying local communities, then what about an ethnography of mapmakers? Because GIS is an organised social activity, I will share experiences of volunteering for OpenStreetMap while I recognise issues such as labour, inclusion, and neocolonialism.

Paper long abstract:

Historically, the public depended on centralised mapping agencies for the collection, analysis, and distribution of geographic information. Today, mapping moves towards outsourcing geospatial work to the public. OpenStreetMap (OSM) is an example. It is a map - digital, free, and editable. Also, it is a social project - an international GIS. The OSM community has thousands of active mappers daily who create, maintain, and share the geographic information for various needs in recreational, entrepreneurial, or humanitarian settings.

Previously, the focus in GIS research was the accuracy, value, or ethics of the digital mapping, respectively. However, mapping is not only representation, practicality, or critique, but also work. As for OSM, it is made possible almost entirely by volunteer work.

I have been volunteering for OSM for the past few years. In my PhD project, I have been doing an autoethnography of mapping to understand what it means and takes to make OSM work, for whom, and why.

I pay attention to both the availability, accuracy, or accessibility of the geographic information, and also the everyday accountabilities of the mapmakers to each other and the local communities being mapped in both intimate and remote ways. Such issues play out in terms of recognition of digital, emotional, and other labour, expertise, notions of private space, and data sovereignty.

In the midst of the hype and momentum in digital mapping today, an ethnography of GIS recognises assumptions, narratives, and worldviews that are inextricably linked to how geospatial data is made, shared, and used.

Panel ME07
Ethnography and GIS