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GIS: old Debates between Geographers

According to the Federal Interagency Coordinating Committee, Geographical Information System (GIS) is a "system composed by hardware, software and proceedings, which afford to acquire, manage, manipulate, analyse, present and show georeference data, to solve complex problem of planning and management". GIS must be a structured system from which we can extract easily a synthetic plan for managers who take decision. All GIS present geographic information due to studying of a variable which has a geographic repartition. Besides, results are often maps. But even if the G of GIS is a reference of geography, today, many people using a GIS do not know. Geographic analysis is absent of many GIS.
Debate... by © *denis2
     Ten years ago, intensive debates animated geographers. Do these applications of GIS be predicted by different minds? 

     In the 1990s, position of GIS in geography was debated. GIS was in the scientific landscape since twenty years but growth of GIS was in 1980s. In 1990s GIS began a significant subject in geography. The first question was about future of GIS; if it was just a fashion subject or something which had a fundamental impact of geography’s discipline. It is clear that GIS introduces some consequences in geography. Conception of maps was easiness by computing. GIS helps geography’s research to analyse some complex phenomena. We can take a lot of data, a small area or the world. We can overlay different variables. We can also after a statistic treatment use another function. We can compare data from different period. So GIS is a tool which helps us in technical aspects. Why some geographer refused GIS. And why it would be problematic. GIS came in continuity with more and more computing but uses of GIS exceed theoretical borders of discipline of geography. It is a tool for all science, and the geographic distribution of a variable can be a great help to phenomenon’s explanation in a hard science or a social science. So GIS influences geography with other contributions.

     The debate to know if GIS is a tool or a science is probably not finished. The way of teaching GIS gives position of GIS. In geography studies, GIS are often taught in undergraduate level. Students work some exercises to dread one or two software. GIS course is similar to statistic course or remote detection. So student has a basic level in GIS and can use one for essay during his/her studies. Every master in geography does not have GIS courses. And a master in geography where we learn only around GIS subject is rare. But GIS is important in urban planning and other subject of planning. And more and more job opportunities request knowledge of GIS. So GIS cannot be ignored in geography. But toolmaking is not a part of the discipline of geography. GIS’ developers have knowledge in mathematics, engineering, design. Sometimes we see the word GIScience. This idea of using GIS for solve problems is particular and perhaps consequence of GIS’s use like a machine where we put variables and distributed data and we obtain at the end a solution of one problem in territory. GIS is a tool from which we cannot separate analyse and geographers have an excellent understanding of the geographic concept.

     It is not the role of GIS in geography but role of geography in GIS which have an importance. Border between science and tool is really difficult to evaluate and often it is impossible to separate these two concepts. GIS is not only for geographers and GIS becomes a big business. Toolmaking is already passed from universities to private enterprises. GIS gives opportunity to geography discipline. GIS confers rigor, precision, legitimacy for public opinion. Geography becomes more illustrated with computerize. Public see more and more map to explain phenomenon in newspapers, Internet… And the question is redefined at how geographers want participate in GIS development.

Bibliographie sélective :
HEYWOOD Ian, CORNELIUS Sarah, CARVER Steve, (2006), An introduction to geographical information systems, Pearson Education, Harlow.

JOHNSTON, R. J. (2000) “Dictionary of human geography”, Oxford: Blackwell
OPENSAW S., (1991), Commentary, in Environment and planning A, volume 23
PICKLES John, (1997) GIS, Technoscience, and the Theoretical turn, in Annals of the Association of American Geographers, volume 87, number 2
WRIGNHT Dawn J., GOODCHILD Michael F., PROCTOR James D., (1997), Demysitfying the persistent ambiguity of GIS as ‘tool’ versus ‘science’, in Annals of the Assossation of American Geographers, volume 87, number2
WRIGNHT Dawn J., GOODCHILD Michael F., PROCTOR James D., (1997), Still hopping to turn that theoretical corner, in Annals of the Assossation of American Geographers, volume 87, number 2