GeoWorld December 2011

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THE "G" IN GIS O GIS: From Space to Place? John Agnew (2005) observed that space can be considered "top-down," defined by powerful actors imposing their control and stories on others. Geography practiced from the space tradition tends to be (though not always) a vertical perspective (e.g., maps or satellite imageries), quantitative and predominantly visual (appealing to the eye). nce I was asked the following by a colleague in another discipline: Which two concepts are the most fundamental in the discipline of geography? Without hesitation, my answer was "space and place." All professionally trained geographers are keenly aware of the fundamental differences between the two terms. Indeed, geography as an intellectual discourse has been oscillat- ing between the perspectives of space vs. place. To understand geography, one must BY DANIEL SUI have a deep understanding of the distinction between space and place, which also has profound implications for the future of GIS. Unfortunately, the terms space and place tend to be used interchangeably—as reflected in formal GIS literature and my casual conversations with GIS specialists. It's time for the GIS community to pay more attention to the "conceptual gold mine" of place. Historical Distinctions The distinction between space and place can be traced back to ancient Greeks, who made a distinc- tion between chora (measurable, abstract space) and topo (immeasurable, concrete place). According to Michael Curry (2005), geography was understood for quite some time primarily from the perspectives of chora and topo. "Geo" entered into the scholarly and popular Daniel Sui is distinguished professor and chair, Department of Geography, The Ohio State University; e-mail: 12 lexicon at a much later age in human history. Edward Casey (1997) further observed that Western thinking about the world had continuously neglected the perspective of place and been increasingly in favor of space since the Age of Enlightenment. Scholars now seem to have consensus that a partial focus on space or place might serve as an impediment to a more holistic understanding of the world. As Yi-Fu Tuan (1977) and Casey (1997) aptly demonstrated, scholars in multiple fields throughout history have developed a vast repertoire of conceptualizations of space and place. Conceptually, space and place represent a continuum of how we understand the world—with space being more abstract and place being more concrete. GEO W ORLD / D ECEMBE R 2O11 In GIScience, we still don't have an overarching theory of place or how to work with the concept. In the coming years, it will be gratifying if GIS can finally find its place. In contrast, place can be considered as "bottom- up," representing the outlooks and actions of more typical folks. Geography practiced from the place tradition favors a slant/side perspective (e.g., Google Street View or regular photos) and is more qualitative and multi-sensual. According to Agnew (2011), the concept of place usually includes three pillars: 1. Location (as defined by latitude and longitude) 2. Locale (as defined by physical/environmental and socioeconomic/cultural contexts) 3. A sense of place (as defined by humans' subjective perception/attachment to a particular location/locale) Apparently, place is semantically a richer concept than space. Tyranny of Place? Until recently, GIS has been dominated by perspec- tives from space using Cartesian coordinates accord- ing to Euclidean geometry. The massive amounts of volunteered geographic information, in general, and geo-tagged or location-based social media data, in particular, seem to revive our approach to the world from the perspective of place, almost reaching the point of hyper-localism dominated by "the tyranny of place" (Haklay, 2010).

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