Thoughts, Reports and Rambles from the AAG: Neogeographers meet Paleogeographers

By March 25, 2009 One Comment

Day 3 at the AGG in Las Vegas, 10.00am and sitting in a panel session entitled ‘Neogeographers meet Paleogeographers’

The Panelists are:

Renee Sieber – McGill University
Martin Dodge – Manchester University (and former CASA)
Andrew Turner – FortiusOne
Sean Gorman – FortiusOne
André Skupin – San Diego State University

Session Description: The Geoweb has revolutionized digital cartography and GIScience. The revolutionaries are neogeographers. According to Turner (2006), “Neogeography is about people using and creating their own maps, on their own terms and by combining elements of an existing toolset”. Toolsets involve user-generated geospatial content (aka volunteered geographic information): geotagged Flickr photographs, Google Maps Mashups, Open Street maps, and loopt. It’s more than software or Internet apps, “The geoaware Web isn’t a product we buy; it’s an environment we colonize” (Udall 2005).

Neogeography is posited as antithetical to traditional geography. To neos, GIScience appears fixated on data accuracy, vetting and documentation. Critical GIS makes dire pronouncements for geospatial gadgetry. Neogeographers call for flexible and playful artistic engagement with place (a “dissident cartographic aesthetic”, {Holmes 2006}). Birthed in wikipedia ideologies of egalitarianism and disdain for expertise, they believe in “radical openness” (Udall 2005). GIScience is seen as a closed (and, coincidentally, insufficiently computational) enterprise, relying on clubbiness and on proprietary software. With this characterization, can neo and paleo ever be reconciled?

The panelists come from both camps, consider four questions. 1. What is the landscape of neo and UGGC and what do they reveal about the Geoweb’s deeper socio-political implications? 2. What can each camp offer the other and what barriers impede communication? 3. What role does expertise hold in colonizing the Geoweb? 4. If neo is the current thing then what is post-neo? Panelists will seek linkages among paleo, neo, and geo.

Andy Turner notes that traditional geographers are finding it hard to keep up – Neogeography is simply about the user and about getting information online that is geotagged – ie outside the realm of traditional GIS. Of course, as Andrew Skupin, states a lot of geography is not GIS based in the first place so most geography is and always has been outside the realm of GIS. Andrew recommended the term ‘Naive geography’ over Neogeography. In some ways we see the term Naïve Geography as slightly patronizing to people who geo tag their photos, user Google Earth etc.

Martin is interestingly sitting on the bridge between the two – noting one of Martins students view that user generated content is ‘a bit rubbish’ – we would note that it is very early days and the spread of systems such a OpenStreet Map has been phenomenal in terms of time vs coverage. User generated content opens up the process of map making to the masses and not just a finished ‘product’ ala National Mapping Agencies.

Renee notes that traditional geographers has been dealing with the issues that Neogeographers are asking about for decades in the form of GIS. The difference is as Andy notes is that Neogeographers don’t need to sit through a semester of mapping projections etc to display, map and analyze their data. We would agree, the traditional GIS course is out of date, sure there is a place for it but if education is about preparing students for the future and the job market then perhaps a stronger emphasis on Web 2.0 toolkits is needed.

Perhaps the real problem is with ‘traditional geographers’ they are not generally out in the world communicating and sharing via blogs, forums, instead quietly publishing in journals etc. While there is nothing wrong with the traditional academic viewpoint, new tools are opening up the creation of data to the masses and with that there is a need for up to date knowledge via systems such as blogs.

Our view? Perhaps traditional geography is the rabbit in the head lights, the next five years are going to be very interesting in terms of geography, its traditions, its methods and techniques.


Andy is Professor of Digital Urban Systems at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at University College London.

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