Qualitative GIS for use in the Social Sciences

M. Stanton
GEO 565

My topic for this project is qualitative GIS. I have been working on finding ways to incorporate a GIS component into my ethnographic research in agricultural anthropology. The idea is to gain a better understanding of how farmers working toward more sustainable agricultural practices view the physical aspects of their own farms and the surrounding areas. The topic of qualitative GIS is pretty broad and I would like to use this project to narrow down the possibilities and discover the most appropriate methods to use for my research. Some possible areas of focus are cognitive understanding of spatial representations, participatory research that focuses on land-use strategies, and uses of interactive mapping for analyzing and cataloguing agricultural production.

Corbett, Jon and C. Peter Keller (2005) An Analytical Framework to Examine Empowerment Associated With Participatory Geographical Information Systems (PGIS) Cartographica, 41(3): 92-105.

The authors suggest that using supplementary text to describe visual data is not the best way to present local knowledge of spaces because many people, especially some indigenous peoples, do not use written text to describe their surroundings and therefore information is lost or incomplete. Corbett and Keller also acknowledge the critique of PGIS which suggests that the method is limited to those with sufficient economic power to access the information. However, if individuals and communities within regions of study can gain access to participatory research, those groups can become empowered by the knowledge that is provided by those collaborative studies.

Corbett, Jon and Giacomo Rambaldi (2009) Geographic Information Technologies, Local Knowledge, and Change In Qualitative GIS. Elwood, Sarah and Meghan Cope eds. Los Angeles: Sage.

Corbett and Rambaldi describe the ways that Ogiek peoples of the Mau forest complex in Kenya have worked with researchers to spatially analyze a cartographic model of the surrounding landscape to articulate their local knowledge of ancestral lands. Community mapping projects have been undertaken in many parts of the world to help local peoples describe their cultural understanding of the landscape. Most community maps are built based on the consensus of groups of community members with local knowledge and a collective experience of the region in which they live. The desired impacts of these community mapping projects is to enable indigenous communities to make better management decisions about land ownership and development.

Crang, M. (2005) Qualitative methods: Is there nothing outside the text? Progress in Human Geography, 29(2): 225-33.

In this article Crang describes the ongoing debate within geography and the social sciences over the representation of qualitative information. Crang presents several different methodologies and the critiques of those methods by different researchers and within different disciplines.

Elwood, Sarah and Meghan Cope (2009) Introduction: Qualitative GIS: Forging Mixed Methods Through Representations, Analytical Innovations, and Conceptual Engagements In Qualitative GIS. Los Angeles: Sage

This introductory chapter on qualitative GIS gives a number of reasons why GIS is becoming more important in mixed methods approaches to research studies. Qualitative data helps to contextualize information pertaining to social and material events and locations. The way people describe and interpret spatial processes is an important aspect of GIS studies. GIS-based representations, including maps and other spatial data, are part of a mixed methods form of knowledge production.

Elwood, Sarah (2006) Critical Issues in Participatory GIS: Deconstructions, Reconstructions, and New Resource Directions. Transactions in GIS 10 (5): 693-708.

Elwood considers some of the problems and changes that have occurred in the use GIS in participatory research. She states that some of the difficulties that have led to a critique of those collaborative efforts stem from limited access to information and the representation of findings by those doing the research. There has been an explosion of interest in participatory research over the past several years but it is still a relatively new method with ongoing dilemmas and challenges caused by the varied approaches to interdisciplinary research. The difficulties in representing spatial knowledge and the differential experiences of various social groups is an ongoing difficulty in spatial analysis. Researchers using qualitative GIS methods often use GIS to produce map based images for developing spatial representations that will support needs based community projects.

Grady, John (2007) Sociology: Surprise and Discovery exploring social diversity. In Understanding Place: GIS and Mapping across the Curriculum. Diana Stuart and Jennifer J. Lund eds. Redlands: ESRI Press.

Grady discusses a course that motivates students learn about GIS and teaches them to read and interpret maps as sociologists. The course teaches students to map patterns of social diversity such as variations in the race and ethnicity. Students can use GIS to access information about demographics, social economic status, and variations in those patterns. By working together in teams students are able to engage in active learning strategies that allow them to share information as well as gain a visual understanding of social patterns.

Guttenberg, Albert Z. (1992) Toward a Behavioral Theory of Regionalization In Theories and Methods of Spatio-Temporal Reasoning in Geographic Space A. U. Frank, I. Campari, U. Formentini eds. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

This article discusses the ways that regionalism is considered in the social sciences and begins with defining the term region. Defining a region or deciding what the borders of a region should be is an ongoing problem in many scientific fields. Guttenberg suggests that regionalization can be interpreted within the context of adaptive human behavior. The categorization of different types of regions is based on human behaviors within spatial areas and the phases of behavior that change over time and in turn will affect those categories or even create new regions.

Huynh, Niem Tu and Sean T. Doherty (2007) Digital Sketch-Map Drawing as an Instrument to Collect Data About Spatial Cognition. Cartographica 42(4).

Cognitive mapping techniques are used to determine how people see or imagine the environment around them. Newer computer technologies allow people to draw these cognitive models on computer screens that can then be added to a GIS environment. The authors designed a case study where individuals sketched maps with multiple mapping elements within a thirty minute time period. Researchers then analyzed the results based on the elements and detail of those cognitive maps.

Janelle, Donald G. (2007) Expanding the social sciences with mapping and GIS In Understanding Place: GIS and Mapping across the Curriculum. Diana Stuart and Jennifer J. Lund eds. Redlands: ESRI Press.

In this chapter Janelle discusses spatial concepts such as the significance of place and regional context within the social sciences. Increasing GIS capabilities are helping social scientists to better understand the complex relationships between social, environmental, and economic issues. The message of this introductory article is that instructors are developing new ways to engage students in both individual learning and group collaboration through the use of GIS in the classroom.

Jung, J. K. and S. Elwood (2010) Extending the Qualitative Capabilities of GIS: Computer-aided qualitative GIS. Transitions in GIS 14(1): 63-87.

This article discusses some of the methods that are used to merge qualitative GIS information with quantitative methods in order to provide a more complex and complete approach to doing research. By linking GIS data to qualitative data through the use of computer aided qualitative GIS software (CAQ-GIS) researchers are able to bring together information that is more complete and easier to access. By combining visual and quantitative data with qualitative data that is developed using a grounded theory approach and in-depth content analysis, the researcher will be able to present information that should be more complete and more easily understood. (This is the best article so far!).

Jung, Jin-Kyu (2009) Computer-Aided Qualitative GIS: A software-level integration of qualitative research and GIS In Qualitative GIS. Los Angeles: Sage.

Jung describes how GIS can serve as the basis for integrating quantitative data that describes the visual aspects of urban areas with qualitative data that considers the social attachments and local knowledge of humans in those urban neighborhoods. Jung suggests that there are both quantitative images, such as remotely sensed images like aerial photographs, and qualitative images that can express the varied meanings of place and convey experiential knowledge of the people living there. By creating a ‘qualitative layer’ for storing qualitative data, Jung is able to store information in the appropriate grid cells within an imaginary raster overlay. Storing qualitative data in an attribute table allows for easy access to useful information.

Knigge, LaDona and Meghan Cope (2009) Grounded Visualization and Scale: A Recursive Analysis of Community Spaces In Qualitative GIS. Elwood, Sarah and Meghan Cope eds. Los Angeles: Sage.

Knigge and Cope suggest that visualization of spatial data and ethnographic methods can be combined to form a more complete mixed-methods approach to create new forms of knowledge. Grounded visualization combines the grounded theory approach of anthropologists and the more quantitative visualization approach of GIS. This combined approach allows researchers and stakeholders to realize that there are many variations in the ways that people visualize and interpret community spaces. The authors use Buffalo New York as a case study in the analysis and interpretation of scale and vacancy within neighborhoods.

Matthews, S. A., Detwiler, J.E. and Burton L.M. (2005) Geo-ethnography: coupling geographic information analysis techniques with ethnographic methods in urban research. Cartographica, 41(3): 75-90.

The authors describe how they incorporated a GIS component into their study of low income families in The Welfare Project. This was a large-scale project that used the qualitative methods of surveys, interviews, and observation of low income families in three different cities. Because of the large scale of the project, the GIS component allowed researchers to keep track of the study participants and categorize their subjects based on the criteria of the study.

Nyerges, A. Endre, with Daniel M. Saman and Laura B. Whitaker (2007) Anthropology: Mapping Guinea savanna ecology in Sierra Leone In Understanding Place: GIS and Mapping across the Curriculum. Diana Stuart and Jennifer J. Lund eds. Redlands: ESRI Press.

In this chapter the authors use GIS to explore the idea that while many outside observers assume that small forested areas in the Kissidougou landscape are remnants of a once larger forest, local people are in fact creating small forest scenarios in locations that were once savanna. Anthropology students use GIS as a tool to replicate steps that were used to create a comparative spatial analysis of Kissidougou and the Kilimi regions of Sierra Leone. GIS is used to investigate themes in different map layers showing changes in precipitation and vegetation patterns as well as the ways that local peoples alter the landscape through farming and controlled burning patterns.

O’Looney, John (2000) Telling Visual Stories: Using Maps to Build Community In Beyond Maps: GIS and Decision Making in Local Government. Redlands: ESRI Press.

The author describes how GIS is moving away from being a mere data delivery system to a complex method of displaying visual stories about neighborhoods and communities. The idea is that maps can be used as a way to tell a story about community and influence decision-making processes. Through the use of participatory GIS methods, community members can use holistic maps to make informed decisions about resource use and development strategies.

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