Geographic information science as a multidisciplinary and multiparadigmatic field.

Author:Blaschke, Thomas


Several authors have noted the advantages of multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives within the field of Geographic Information Science (Goodchild 1992, 2004b; Mark 2003; Blaschke, Strobl, et al. 2012; Reitsma 2013) and within Geoinformatics. From an epistemological and from a bibliographic standpoint, however, the multidisciplinary nature of research on questions raised by GIS, the research field that will define the next generation of GIS, the body of knowledge that GIS implements, and the use of GIS as a tool for scientific research (Goodchild 2009, 1. 527) may result in the fragmentation of an otherwise unified body of literature. Because such research is conducted within several academic fields, scholars who focus only on the established sources of a particular discipline may bypass important studies that have appeared elsewhere. Further complications may arise due to differences in terminology across academic disciplines, conflicting standards for the assessment of funding proposals and published results and the inadequacy of widely used practices to pigeonhole interdisciplinary research in a well-labeled academic field. In this context, it is important to assess the term "science" in "GIScience" and how it impacts the perception and credibility of the field. Furthermore, it is interesting to evaluate how the term is variously perceived depending on the authors' own backgrounds and possible differences in perception across the globe. While some are reserved in using the term "GIScience" and prefer the term "Geoinformatics," others are strong advocates who entirely agree with the phrase "GIScience," despite the fact that both the terms "geographic" and "science" have been widely disputed within this context. In this article, we analyze scientific literature and coherently structure the competing views, thereby attempting to analyze the advantages of the multidisciplinary perspectives within GIScience and the challenges encompassed in the multidisciplinary and multiparadigmatic nature of the field. We decouple this situation from GIS as the underlying technology. Undoubtedly, GIS has been successful in any respect. Harvey (2013) argues that while successful technologies disappear; they become infrastructure. GIS may, therefore, be regarded as integral foundation of the information age. Harvey argues to consider this situation to be a "Post-GIS era." This might be going too far. Using the analogy of cars as nearly ubiquitous goods in western societies, this would not lead to a "Post-car society"--unless getting rid of individual cars. We therefore in this article avoid to talk too much of GIS regarding the presence, but we need to discuss the critical discussion about GIS in throughout the late 1980s and the 1990s.

Scientific disciplines as well as multi- and interdisciplinary fields may be associated with scientific communities and may have own conferences and journals, just to name a few typical manifestations of academic work. The study of Geographic Information Science is one such interdisciplinary community. Creation of new institutions has also occurred, with specific goals of connecting scientists from different disciplines, but also providing a better visibility to this field. Naming may therefore be important.

To comprehensively assess the nature of GIScience and where it fits in to the complex structure of academia, this article will comprehend the following

* We discuss what GIScience is currently believed to be, based on previous research about GIScience and its positioning, by distinguishing insiders' views and the appreciation by a wider scientific community.

* We analyze the development of GIScience in three phases, from the initial definition of the field through to the most recent developments

* We empirically analyze the structure of this topic area based on its overall statistics: number of papers, number of authors, number of citations, h-index of the topic area, average citations per paper, and average citations per author.

* And finally we discuss the nature of GIScience (science vs. multiparadigmatic field), based on the findings of the research outlined in the prior sections

We hypothesize that GIScience did not just evolve as an interdisciplinary field by accident or because leading scientists lacked an academic "home base"; rather, the necessity to work across traditional disciplinary lines increases, as well as the ability to do so. If our hypothesis holds true, then there is a need to develop an understanding of the structure of multidisciplinary scholarship. This will help to better acknowledge and reward multidisciplinary scholars, like those studying GIScience research questions, and allow academia to better address the geospatial problems we face today.

Previous research about GIScience and its positioning

When writing about GIScience, one needs to start with the work of Goodchild, particularly his 1992 definitional article and his 2010 progress review article. Goodchild coined the term Geographic Information Science in a key note talk at the Fourth International Symposium on Spatial Data Handling in 1990 in Zurich and in a related article published in January 1992. As Couclelis (2012) points out, defining Geographic Information Science is more complex than naming it. She claims that from the various definitions given over the years, few are fully satisfactory, most being either too narrow or too broad. She diagnoses that part of the problem is that the field itself keeps evolving. The more recent developments may be less tightly coupled to GIS as a tool or method and may reach much further into disciplines like Computer Science or Cognitive Sciences. We may distinguish here three main perspectives of why scientists address GIScience as a field: (a) Many of the earlier attempts to define GIScience started from the GIS technology and a widely believed theory deficit; (b) in a later phase, scientists increasingly often tried to demarcate the field. Both perspectives--or phases--are certainly interwoven and overlapping in regard to their usage through time. They are increasingly ensued by (c) a multiparadigmatic approach, which we will discuss in detail in Section "widening up--a multidisciplinary and multiparadigmatic perspective." Like in other fields, scientists increasingly try to build their arguments on literature analyses or on other lists that can be derived from the topic areas of key GIScience conferences, such as the bi-annual GIScience conference series or the COSIT conferences (Fisher 2001; Caron et al. 2008; Parr and Lu 2010; Kemp, Kuhn, and Brox 2012; Blaschke and Eisank 2012).

Raper (2009, 74) comprehensively studied the field of GIScience, mainly examining its history and the main issues it addresses. He concludes that GIScience is "a perfect multi-discipline with a core of theory, data, and software engineering work and a periphery of engagement with related disciplines." He justifies his conclusion by establishing that GIScience utilizes aspects of both hard science (induction, deduction, and abduction) and social sciences (ethnography and critical social theory) in order to deal with the theoretical aspects of spatiotemporal representation, thereby serving as a fundamental theoretical framework for the field of GIS, whereby science seems to be the "dominant mode."

Blaschke, Strobl, and Donert (2011) and Blaschke, Strobl, et al. (2012) have argued that GIScience is a relatively new interdisciplinary field of research based upon the understanding that basic and applied research must be reflected within society (Craglia et al. 2008). GIS has been well established in many different economic sectors, like natural resource management, real estate, and insurance. New fields for GIScience research have arisen, for example, in the health care sector, concerning epidemiology, hospital management, and patient care logistics. Interdisciplinary domains including computer science, surveying, or image processing and applied fields such as forestry, geology, spatial planning, hydrology, or utility management have played an important role, at least in the technical realm.

GIScientists may sometimes find themselves in a somewhat defensive role when it comes to positioning Geographic Information Science (Kemp, Kuhn, and Brox 2012; Blaschke and Eisank 2012, Reitsma 2013). Kemp, Kuhn, and Brox (2012) state that researchers in this field often find it difficult to argue in established disciplines like Geography, Statistics, or Computer Science. Kemp, Kuhn, and Brox diagnose reasons for this to include problems of a narrow focus on indices like Thomson-Reuters' for use in assessment metrics, or the relative importance of conferences versus journals, or different criteria used in geography and computer science (as well as other fields, such as statistics or economics), or the highly variable meaning of "strong impact factors" across fields, and so on (Kemp, Kuhn, and Brox 2012, 268).

Analysis of the development of GIScience

To fully understand the role of GIScience, it is essential to take a look at its roots and development. The necessity for GIScience lies in GIS technology, which is anchored within the broader framework of geography. Although GIS was devised in the 1960s, it was not until the 1980s, by which time GIS had assumed much larger dimensions, that anyone saw a need for a GIScience (Goodchild 2004a). Herein we distinguish three main phases of the young development of GIScience.

GIScience' initial phase

Differentiation of GIScience from GIS and geography Although many prominent signposts of the roots of GIS are in disciplines such as landscape planning, forestry, and resource management, GIS is regarded to be connected to Geography--also because of the name. In the German speaking countries, many textbooks, names of institutions, academic programs, or job titles avoid the term "Geographic" and use "Geo-Informationssysteme"...

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