Author:Santis, Esteban Leonardo
Position:Geographic information systems - Report


In public administration, research on geographic information systems (GIS)--i.e., "computer hardware, software, and geographic data designed to efficiently capture, store, update, manipulate, analyze, model, and display all forms of geographically references information" (Vonk, Geertman, & Schot, 2007, p. 745)--has been limited to studies about: 1) The diffusion, use, and implementation of GIS in the public sector (Brown & Brudney, 1998; Brown, O'Toole, & Brudney, 1998; Nedovic-Budic & Godschalk, 1996; O'Looney, 2000; Ventura, 1995; Vonk et al., 2007); 2) The role of GIS in the field's curricula (Obermeyer, Ramasubramanian, & Warnecke, 2016); And 3) public participation geographic information systems (PPGIS) (Ganapati, 2011; Haque, 2001). In terms of (1) public sector applications, Haque (2001) and Obermeyer et al. (2016) note that GIS is used for planning and community development, the delivery of daily and emergency services, infrastructure management, monitoring the spread of infectious diseases, transportation planning and modeling, assisting in redrawing voting and school districts, and much more. As a matter of (2) teaching, Obermeyer et al. (2016) find that while there is a demand for graduates competent in GIS, public administration programs have not met this need. Finally, concerning (3) PPGIS, given that the goal of PPGIS is to empower communities and, effectively, increase democracy (Ganapati, 2011; Sieber, 2006), it is readily compatible with many of the American Society for Public Administration's (ASPA) and the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration's (NAASPA) core values. This is all to say that the future of GIS scholarship in public administration is full of promise and, as the field's GIS archive matures, it will probably be grounded in these three topics.

However, missing from public administration's GIS research agenda is a critical look at GIS. Like any other tool of public policy (Salamon, 2002), geographic information systems do not exist in a-political, or neutral, vacuums. Instead, GIS is a tool that, like others, can be manipulated. Although the topic is practically absent from the field's GIS archive, critical GIS has a rich genealogy in the field of geography (see O'Sullivan, 2006; Schuurman, 2006; Sheppard, 2005). For the purposes of this discussion, critical GIS is, as Sheppard (2005) understands it, a research program that rose to challenge GIS' positivism, inaccessibility, and failure to accommodate marginalized voices (see Schuurman, 2006, p. 727). Within this research program there are what Peluso (1995) calls counter-maps, i.e., alternative maps that challenge the status quo. While PPGIS--which is already part of public administration's research agenda--and critical GIS share raisons d'etre, the introduction of critical GIS to public administration opens doors to new areas of inquiry beyond issues of public participation, such as social theory, equity, justice, and philosophy vis-a-vis GIS.

As public administration continues to explore geographic information systems as both a tool of public policy and a topic of interest, the field needs to take critical GIS seriously. If, as Frederickson (2005) argues, in carrying out laws and policies, public servants face "important struggles with fairness, justice, and equality" (p. 32), then it behooves administrators to understand the power dynamics that foment exclusion and undermine democratic values in the administrative state; a task that critical GIS is well-suited for. To effectively fulfill their duty, public administrators need to embrace their role as de facto arbiters of conflict and champions of democracy (Nabatchi, Goerdel, & Peffer, 2011). Herein, I argue that critical GIS can help public administration scholars and practitioners engage counter-narratives through counter-maps that portray sites of exclusion, which has significant implications for a socially just administrative state emboldened by a democratic ethos. To do so, I start with a conceptual discussion about the role of exclusion and oppression in the administrative state by way of Agamben's (1998; 2004) state of exception, Kristeva's (1982) notions of the abject, and Quijano's (1992; 2000) coloniality of power thesis. Thereafter, I offer examples of exclusion and oppression in praxis. This is followed by a case study that looks at the shooting of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, on the evening of February 26, 2012. To supplement the study, I used ArcMAP 10.5.1 to geocode Florida's 2010 and 2015 American Community Survey (ACS) five-year estimates at the block-group level. Then, I used Stata 15.0 to run confirmatory factory analyses (CFA). Lastly, I exported the linear factor scores to ArcMAP to create a series of choropleth counter-maps. These counter-maps unearth a series of inequalities that, quite possibly, empowered George Zimmerman's choice to remove Trayvon Martin from a place where Trayvon's presence was the exception. Finally, this is not intended to be, nor can it be, an examination of all the factors that contributed to the killing of Trayvon. Rather, this is an attempt to use GIS to talk about why individuals, like Zimmerman, may feel justified to make decisions about who belongs and does not belong on behalf of the public. Broadly speaking, this is a project to excavate the roots of exclusion and oppression that empower violence against another on behalf of the public--an archeology of exclusion in the administrative state.


The following section establishes the state of exception as a reaction to abnormalities in the administrative state (Agamben, 1998; 2004; Schmitt, 1922/2005). This reaction, as Kristeva (1982) posits, is a matter of abjection (i.e., a self-defining decision to cast out that which cannot, or does not, belong). In doing so, abjection is a means to continually define and redefine the limits and meaning of membership. The introduction of Quijano's (1992; 2000) coloniality of power thesis gives context to the state of exception. Accordingly, the modern state of exception in the Americas was originally used to claim supremacy over non-European peoples. The colonial apparatus, as Quijano (1992; 2000) argues, required the systematic dehumanization of non-Europeans in conjunction with the implementation of systems of cultural, economic, and social oppression to keep marginalized peoples away from privileged spaces. Per Quijano (1992; 2000), this perspective is important because these dynamics of dehumanization and oppression continue to operate today. As such, it is possible to comprehend the contemporary state of exception by using indicators of cultural, economic, and social oppression to counter-map tensions across communities. While this is not a formal archeology (i.e., a study of past civilizations), the conversation is inspired by Foucault's (1969) use of archeology to unearth rules that dictate ontological boundaries. Moreover, my aim here is to excavate new insights about the roots of exclusion and mechanisms of oppression in the administrative state.

The State of Exception

Agamben's (1998) notion of the state of exception is a useful starting point to understand the role of exclusion in the administrative state. At the crux of Agamben's (1998) concept is the suggestion that rootedness (i.e., a sense of place) necessitates normativity. Similarly, regarding jurisprudence, Schmitt (1922/2005) points out that the administration and implementation of law(s) demands a normal order. This is because abnormal conditions render judicial outcomes uncertain, especially during crises. Hence, during abnormal times, judicial order should be suspended to effectively return to normal (Schmitt, 1922/2005). In other words, abnormality is addressed by instituting a state of exception to laws that would otherwise operate haphazardly. Logically, the concept calls for a polity to make the decision to institute a state of exception; a decision imbued with power, which is why Schmitt (1922/2005) defines the sovereign as "he who decides on the exception" (p. 5). Per Schmitt (1922/2005), the rule of law depends on a sovereign's power to enact a state of exception during a crisis; a decision that in a democracy should be made on behalf of the People (or the will of the People). Now, whereas Schmitt (1922/2015) outlines the state of exception as a condition of possibility for an enduring administrative state, Agamben (1998) shifts the conversation from jurisprudence to the concept's ontological limits. In a sense, to exclude is to possess the power to define and redefine the limits of existence--of belonging and nonbelonging--by articulating and rearticulating exceptions to presumed normal life. The exception begets a sense of belonging-through-exclusion to the extent that people fathom their sense of belonging only in relation to the excepted/excluded Other. So, when there is a need to understand the limits of membership (or belongingness)--or when membership is contested--the declaration of a state of exception helps to articulate and cast out that which does not or cannot belong. Ultimately, in line with Agamben (1998), the state of exception is as much a suppression of law as it is a suppression of life. Taken to the extreme, a real-life consequence of the declaration of a state of exception is the forcible relocation of exempted peoples to sites of exclusion--Agamben (1998) points to the Nazi concentration camps as prototypes of this process.

At the margins of the state of exception lies the threshold: a zone of indistinction wherein the quintessential uniqueness of membership, albeit artificial, is asserted through its witnessing of the exception (Agamben, 2004). The zone of indistinction is where the rule and the exception, normal and abnormal, come face-to-face. Since the zone of indistinction (sometimes a fence, sometimes a wall) needs to change as it...

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