Looking for a Provider of UK boundary data

Looking for a Provider of UK boundary data

I'm working on a web project centered around the input and mapping of GIS data. We have a need to display polygons of town boundaries.

The website has and uses this data:^20140&insId=1

Does anyone know a provider of this information (town/city boundaries)?

I've contacted Google sales, but they've said they don't have this data. So it appears RightMove got it from another source.

There's the Ordnance Survey OpenData now. You could try the Strategi product. This has urban_region polygons, but they don't have names since they are often several towns now in a conurbation. Combining with the settlmnt_point layer you could use that to get the names.

Here's the polys and points on top of a google maps layer (done using QGIS)

As you can see, the blue polygon relates to Portishead and Redcliff Bay. Anyway, maybe you can use this.

The Ordnance Survey Strategi (Version: 01/2011) is available from

Also, you may be asking the same as:

UK cities boundries in Ordnance survey

If you require Higher Quality City (Urban Areas) data:

Vector Map District is derived from a larger scale than the Stategi product mentioned

The VectorMap District Building Outlines is the most accurate and up-to-date dataset available without cost (under OpenData Licence) from the Ordnance Survey.

Scale of the Datasets

VectorMap District Scale The nominal viewing scale is 1:25 000, with a recommended viewing scale range of 1:15 000 to 1:30 000.

Strategi The definitive 1:250 000 scale dataset for Great Britain suited to multiple applications using a geographical information system (GIS), computer-aided design (CAD) and digital mapping systems. I do work for boundaries io

BS20 which is postal of Bristol… this API gets exactly what your looking for and returns simply GeoJson to integrate into GoogleMap easy.


Gets you the below in googlemap, after consuming the GeoJson Response.

UK Data Service | Census Data

Digitised boundary datasets (sometimes referred to as 'DBDs' or 'boundary data') are a digitised representation of the underlying geography of the census. They are often used within Geographical Information Systems (GIS) or Computer aided Designs (CAD) systems. For more information follow this link.

Natural England’s data

you do not need to submit a data request if data is publicly available - to download click the link in column F

when you download the data you are provided with a link to the licence for that dataset - note the copyright acknowledgement text to use on maps

to find data that is not publicly available, filter column C to “Available on request for projects meeting Natural England’s core purpose” and make a data request following the instructions in Contractors and partners using geographic data

Data available on

See the Natural England data products available on Each record includes links to download the data and further information.

Open Data

Pre-defined searches on for Natural England’s Open Data:

Published under Natural England’s terms of use

Pre-defined searches on for data published under Natural England’s terms of use.

Geographic data

The geographic data that describes our world allows for city planning, flood prediction and relief, emergency service routing, environmental assessments, wind pattern monitoring and many other applications.

Geographic data is processed with Geographic information system (GIS) software which can, as one aspect of its functioning, produce maps.

In the United States, geographic data collected by central government is made available free of copyright for no more than the cost of distribution. The United States Census Bureau's TIGER Mapsurfer provides a web service and also offers data free for download. TIGER allows you to build a geocoding facility with which to spatially locate addresses. Given the ability to geocode street addresses and other features, one can create a lot of interesting spatial analysis, location-based service, political campaigning apps and localised search services.

In the EU there is a European Union directive (INSPIRE directive) to establish shared standards between the different countries, accompanied by web viewing of rendered map data, and an as yet unspecified license framework for geographic data.

GIS & Spatial Data: Alberta Data

GEODE is a consortium of Alberta academic institutions that has obtained spatial data from AltaLIS to support research and teaching. Access to GEODE data is restricted and coordinated through partner institution contacts.

You must either be on campus OR be using the Virtual Private Network (VPN) to download these files.

The Municipal Boundary product offers provincial coverage of Municipal boundary line work, featuring Counties, MD’s, Special Areas, Improvement Districts, Cities, Towns, Villages, Summer Villages and Hamlets.

The file is kept current integrating Government of Alberta Municipal Order in Council changes, and is maintained in-sync with the cadastral base.

Digital Integrated Dispositions (DIDs) is an accurate, complete and timely geospatial mapping inventory that maintains surface activity extents for 35 types of dispositions (i.e. leases & permits) on Alberta’s Crown Land. Examples include: LOC, MSL, EZE, PLA, GRP, etc.

Disposition mapping is used for regulatory, permitting and planning applications, by all industry, public and private sector interests that are active on public lands.

Looking for a Provider of UK boundary data - Geographic Information Systems

The Geographic Information Technology (GIT) program will serve to introduce students to the fundamental principles of geographic information systems, remote sensing, database applications, cartography, and enable students to understand the current state of knowledge residing in a geographic information system. The GIT program seeks to ready students for positions with governmental agencies, engineering companies, and topographical drafting organizations. Through the knowledge they receive from this program, they will also be capable of finding employment in a GIT department.

Geographic Information Technology Requirements (62 Credits)

Semester ONECreditsPrerequisites
DFT 120 Computer Aided Drafting 3
ENGL 1110 Composition I 3 ENGL 098 or satisfactory placement scores
NAVA 1110 Navajo I 4
GIT 105 Fundamentals of Cartography 3
GIT 110 Geographic Information Systems I 3
SSC 100 College Success 1
Semester TWO
MATH 1220 College Algrebra 4 MATH 1215
ENVS 1110C Environmental Science I 4 BIOL 1110 or CHEM 1120
GIT 111 Geographic Information Systems II 3 GIT 110
ENGR 103 Introduction to Engineering 3 ENGR 130
ACG 210 Principles of Management 3
Semester THREE
ENV 245 Natural Resources I 4
MATH 1230 Trigonometry 4 MATH 1220
GIT 202 Remote Sensing 3 MATH 1220
GIT 210 Service Learning Project 1 GIT 111
CT 203 Construction Surveying 3
Semester FOUR
PHYS 1230C Algebra Based Physics I Lecture & Lab 4 MATH 1215C
IT 335 Data Visualization 3
GIT 207 GIS Software Applications 3 GIT 111
GIT 220 Database Query 3 GIT 111
Total Required Credit Hours62

Program Advisor
Nsalambi V. Nkongolo, Assistant Professor of Geographic Information Technology
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 505.387.7508 / 573.292.7783

PhD Environmental Geography, Nelson Mandela University (South Africa)
PhD Soil Science, Laval University, Quebec (Canada)
MSc Agriculture, Alcorn State University, MS
MSc Geography, University of North Dakota, ND
BSc Agronomy, Faculty Institute of Agronomic Sciences (Dem. Rep. Congo)
PgCert, Ecological Survey Techniques, University of Oxford (UK)

Frequently asked questions

How can an Active Partnership use the tool with partners?

What are the costs?

Software applications such as ArcGIS Online and Google Earth are now available online and significant amounts of data are being made freely available. Always check the terms and conditions of use.

What can it be used for?

The data mentioned in this example can be replaced by any other datasets for similar analysis, such as national governing body clubs, Active Places facilities, Places People Play investments, and so on:

  • What is the distribution of investments across a region?
  • How does this investment relate to priority groups areas?
  • Which areas might be considered for future investment?

What will it tell me?

The power of GIS is its ability to overlay datasets that previously may have had nothing in common. GIS is able to:

  • Map where things are – lets you find places that have the features you’re looking for and see where to take action. Further questions may then be asked to determine why features are located within these areas and not other areas. For example, mapping a national governing body’s club network to identify areas for future development
  • Map quantities – to show where most and least are, helping to identify places that meet certain criteria and take action or to see the relationships between places. For example, an investment scheme to develop initiatives in areas of high deprivation
  • Find what’s nearby – find out what’s occurring within a set distance of a feature by mapping what’s nearby either via a straight line distance catchment areas (a five-mile radius, for example) or drive time catchment areas (within a 20-minute drive, for example) that uses a road network. For example, a sports facility profiles the population within a 20-minute walk of its facility to determine the most appropriate activities and services for the local population.

What won’t it tell me?

The interpretation of results requires a good understanding of the data being used and the analytical tasks being performed. Having a clear idea of the questions to ask of the data at the outset of your analysis is critical.

Toward speculative data: "geographic information" for situated knowledges, vibrant matter, and relational spaces.

This essay offers paths for scholars influenced by the critical social sciences and theoretical humanities to contribute to the construction of concepts and digital practices of "data" that will allow "data" to better align with their approaches to scholarly inquiry. In particular, it explores how "geographic information" might be refashioned, rereading it from simplified theoretical positions drawn from interpretative inquiry, process-relational thought, and new materialisms. Geographic information has largely called forth self-sufficient entities that have intensive properties, are indexed by location in an absolute space, and are known objectively through a geographic gaze. By contrast, this article suggests ways geographic information may be reimagined to constitute spaces as relational, matter as vibrant, and/or knowledge as situated. If all claims are seen as interpretative, the boundaries between what were previously considered the roles for reader, researcher, data structures, observer, and observed may also need to be reordered, with implications for the ways that we "interface" with data. Although such paths can be difficult to travel, they hold promise for extending the reach of interpretative and (non-positivist) empirical practice as well as favorably altering the terms on which interpretative scholars can participate in debates around, and practices of, "data" today.

Critical data studies, geographic information, new materialism, process-relational thought, relational geographies

"Data", whether as concept or as concrete records, is far from banal, neutral, or ahistorical. Today, to many, "data" increasingly evokes senses of economic, ecological, social, and epistemological possibility (Anderson, 2008 Hey et al., 2009). In one computational imaginary called forth, near-infinite streams of data enable predictive modeling using machine learning whose relevancy and adequacy bypass the descent into the cacophony of theoretical inquiry altogether. Even the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities has funded several "Digging Into Data Challenges" (NEH, 2013). What is this "data" and why is it now so important?

In geography, the quantitative revolution, its critiques, and its data largely took shape in an era when digital computation was still expensive and comparatively narrow in its scope of usage within scholarly life. While computation had made many quantitative practices practical, its role in reshaping the fundamental terms of academic knowledge was still in its infancy. Debates around truth, reality, objectivity, quantification, and particular practices of inferential statistics are readily understood in the context of a conversation with mid-century science. "Data", as a category of intellectual concern, has often been largely defined through its associations with experiment, observation, and collection. Even science and technology studies, in its deconstructions of "data", has often focused on data within scientific practices (Latour, 1999).

Does recent intensification and extensification of computation in academic inquiry, in industry, and in social life generally make a difference to the way we understand "data" and its potentialities (Castelle, 2013)? I suggest here that it should, even if many of the practices that define "data" today were extant in earlier moments. Today, "data" is a concept whose transformation in relation to computation has been integral to its travels far beyond older connections to experimental science into new or altered relationships with capital, with the state, and with particular computational architectures, data structures and algorithms (Lyotard, 1984). Critiques of data, of its violences, silences, and overreachings, from past debates over quantification are still relevant (see, inter alia, Olsson, 1969, 1975), but the spread and intensification of computation even in the scholarly practices of social theorists and cultural critics increases the need--and perhaps the opportunity--for creative critical practice in response.

There are many interpretive scholars today whose research does use digital "data", yet does so on what one might term an "artisanal" basis--doing so in relatively small quantities and with deep attention to context. Thus, even if said scholars put such data into a spreadsheet, a simple relational database, or a qualitative data analysis program, the meanings of such data for the scholar are rarely "exhausted" by their digital representation. In a sense, the relevant processes of empirical research have been as much facilitated by computers as they have been transformed by them. The scholar maintains a dialogue with the data, contextualizes it, supplements it. Commentaries can still be written in the virtual margins, positionalities grasped, intertextuality given play. Thick description, even if left implicit in a file, is still readily at hand and in mind. Such artisanal digitally-enabled scholarship constitutes a "data" that supports the critical intellectual commitments of its scholars (Boyd and Crawford, 2012 Crampton et al., 2013). Much scholarship within a journal such as Society & Space is thus enabled by artisanal engagement with data and computation.

Yet there are tensions in interpretative scholarship's grapplings with the practices of computation and data hegemonic today. Data are often now empowered by being rendered able to be interrelated, circulated, accumulated, and calculated in new ways. We individuate data, we efface the roles of our own hands in data, and we abstract data, and only later do we interrelate, contextualize, and render data "semantic". In doing so, we draw upon the Modern intellectual legacies of "the fact" and its separations both of observer from observed and of description from analysis upon a Cartesian dualism mirrored in the architectures of the computer that are used today and upon an ontological tendency toward individuation found in the tabular logics that underlie much of our data [structures]. The way we construct "data" is interconnected with the way we construct boundaries defining observer, data, researcher, and reader.

Unfortunately, this division of conceptual labor that our present "data" helps us produce is not ideal for fostering approaches to inquiry that have been central over the past generation to the interpretative social sciences and the humanities in general, or to much of geography in particular. If the energetic epistemological and ontological debates and explorations of recent decades in our fields are not to be undermined by engaging with computation, but are to be facilitated by it, a transformative critique of "data" is needed. Here, I examine the computational construction of data in general, but I focus on "geographic information" in particular. Geographic information is intimately involved with contemporary Geographic Information Systems (GIS), but has intellectual implications far beyond, largely defining the terms on which computation and geography intersect in academic disciplines and outside the academy. Geographic information has largely been defined and implemented in a manner that constitutes independent entities with intensive properties, contextually indexed by location in an absolute space, and known objectively through a geographic gaze.

In response, I offer approaches to reconstructing geographic information in which spaces are relational, matter is vibrant, and/or knowledge is situated. To recognize matter as vibrant is allow it capacities, "not only to impede or block the will and designs of humans but also to act as quasi agents or forces with trajectories, propensities, or tendencies of their own" (Bennett, 2010: vii). If claims are situated and interpretative acts if spaces are produced as active moments within process and not merely absolute if entities are likewise individuated in process and out of relation then basic data structures, algorithms, interfaces, research subjectivities, and their boundaries need to be reformulated. In doing so, I argue both for the desirability and the plausibility of realizing a "speculative" data. The reference to the speculative is multiple: not only to the recent ontological and epistemological arguments of the speculative realists and empiricists (Bennett, 2010: vii), but also to calls by Johanna Drucker and other critics internal to the digital humanities for a "speculative computing" (Drucker, 2009). In speculative computing, we, "identify core theoretical issues in the humanities and develop digital platforms that arise from these principles" (Drucker, 2012). Let us listen and respond to these calls as we critically engage and reconstruct "data".

Of facts, code/data, modern computation, and the gaze from nowhere

The contemporary constitution of data owes much to the earlier rise of the Modern fact: the deracinated particular, observable by credible witnesses, yet partially both constitutive of (and constituted by) larger social relations (Latour, 1987 Poovey, 1998 Shapin and Schaffer, 1985). Although descriptive genres, such as inventories of resources by states, certainly predate modernity, a key Modern achievement has been the commonplace conceptual separation of worldly descriptions from theoretical analysis. In 19th-century social thought, a reciprocal relationship was established between emerging specializations of statisticians and political economists (Poovey, 1998). Neutral facts became abstracted from their situated knowers and appeared as if they might as well be seen by the "gaze from nowhere" (Haraway, 1988: 581). Although citation and reproducibility have remained important, facts have gained the ontological self-sufficiency to be recorded alone. Whereas textual inscriptions were once often understood to be meaningfully contextualized through having been signed by an individual, often an author having intent and having been influenced by a milieu (cf. Barthes, 1977), digital inscription has realized a certain semiotic economy and productive ambiguity through demanding a more thorough decontextualization of the texts (often numeric) it processes. Metadata, whose name is itself suggestive of a preexisting process of alienation, is too often an afterthought, and regardless, is not at the core of definitions for data structures or interwoven with the operations we execute on such data (though note the creative efforts of, among others, Schuurman and Leszczynski, 2006).

In a curious and selective echo of the modern conception of the western intellectual and his/her relationship to the world, the contemporary computer has generally been conceived as a machine with a central processing unit that draws upon and acts upon its own "memory" and with peripheral extensions it can use to physically interface with the machine's environment. In a theoretical sense, Turing's pioneering concept of the machine, for all its abstract mathematical formulism, explicitly compares a person computing with a machine that "sees" and writes on a tape (Turing, 1936: 231). From the beginning, this model of computing has reinscribed a variation on a Cartesian dualism (Descartes, 1988). We have that which reasons, and that which is manipulated and reasoned with. Data is the subordinate term in a binary, opposed variously to code and to the processing code directs.

Consideration of alternative computing paradigms does suggest how social-theoretic commitments may receive something less than full support from our current computing paradigm. Drawing on the concept of embodied cognition, scholars are exploring the possibility of realizing always-already physically embodied approaches to computation that will transcend the abstract Cartesian dichotomies of mind and data discussed above and suggested by the conventional understanding of Church-Turing computation (Maclennan, 2011). Indeed, the human mind itself may well exceed those models of computation (Kauffman, 2016). Researchers have inquired into ways in which various socionatural processes could be understood as implicitly carrying out information processing akin to computation (Feldman et al., 2008). When computation and data are no longer abstracted and separate but constituted as embodied, will we not be less likely to conceive of "data" using the "gaze from nowhere"?

Hegemonic computing architectures may support certain higher-order notions of data, but they are not determining them. Those concerned with reworking the intellectual commitments of "data" in the present may also intervene at the level of software, in how (boundaries between) data structures, interfaces, and users are constructed. To this, we now turn, with particular reference, but not exclusive relevance, to the construction of one type of data, "geographic information".

Of individuation, tables, and geographic information

Early articles on the role of computation in geography were clear about what would constitute data in geographic research. It was to be data that today one might term as that which may be "georeferenced": "Traditionally, geographers have relied upon field work to collect their data. The data collected have been of two kinds, locational data and areal data. The former involve the characteristics found at some point, and the latter the characteristics in some region" (Berry et al., 1964: 39). Similarly, "it is probably trite to say that any geographic research must have to do with either locational or areal data of some sort" (Kao, 1963: 530). In the subsequent history of GIS, various concepts of fields, vectors, objects, events, networks, geo-atoms, geo-dipoles, have been advanced and instantiated in software to different degrees (Goodchild et al., 2007 O'Sullivan, 2005 Worboys, 2005). However, in the Varenius Project, a number of leading figures could still write that, "all [Geographic Information] can be reduced eventually to a simple statement that at some location there exists an instance of some more generally recognized thing, where thing might be a class, a feature, a concept, a measurement of some variable, an activity, an organism, or any of a myriad possibilities" (Goodchild et al., 1999). Geographic Information has been a particular representational project in which phenomena are objectively knowable are discrete geometries with intensive properties and, crucially, are referenceable (often by latitude and longitude coordinates) within an absolute Newtonian space. What logics underlie this constitution of geographical information, which is at the expense of realizing a geographic information more consonant with the ways many scholars who work with continental social theory might call upon evidence or make arguments?

Within the general tendencies of data and computation described above, tabular logics play a relevant role in the constitution of the present geographic information imaginary. Forms of table have played diverse roles in various contexts over history (Campbell-Kelly et al., 2003), but in the context of geographic data, they have helped in constituting, individuating, and organizing the interactions among phenomena, regulating the semiotic economy of data. Tables and spatialities have been co-constructing in multiple senses. Foucault, in The Birth of the Clinic (1973) and as read by geographers (e.g. Brown and Knopp, 2014 Philo, 2000), explored several "spatializations" integral to the birth of particular institutions, practices, discourses of modern medicine. These included tables of abstract classificatory nosologies that helped construct knowledge of diseases. In another sense, the work of the census helping constitute the population as a geographical object of knowledge long relied upon tables, but with the 1890 U.S. Census, also became intertwined with the development of computation through Hollerith's punched card machines, which led to the corporation later known as IBM (Heide, 2009).

But most directly illuminating for my concerns here is the example of Brian Berry's (1964) influential piece, "Approaches to regional analysis: a synthesis." This article gave clear voice to a tabular logic perennially associated with geographic information. The title suggested a possible synthesis between approaches to regional analysis in a moment when regional and systematic analytical approaches to geography appeared to be in conflict (Hartshorne, 1959 Schaefer, 1953). A systematic/regional synthesis was to be reached through the seemingly simple tabular technology of the "geographical matrix": a table whose columns were regions, whose rows were characteristics, and whose elements each recorded a "geographical fact", an observation of a given characteristic in a given region. (1) In their most basic forms, regional geography was to be the study of a column and systematic geography was to be the study of a row. More complex analyses could draw upon the analysis of multiple columns and/or rows. This constitution of geographic facts as intensive properties of particular regions that could be organized in a matrix or table (or a computational data structure such as a multi-dimensional array available in new high-level programming languages) was to become almost ubiquitous in later notions of Geographic Information that were [reproduced within GIS, even while the simplest tabular data structures have been supplanted by spatialized variants of the more sophisticated so-called "relational" databases (on which, more below).

Regional and systematic geography had been brought into simple geometric relation, but costs of constituting geographic data in this manner did not go unremarked upon, even by Berry himself. (2) Even his most complicated geographical matrix,

. shows the ways in which the system of interest to geography may be viewed at the first of these levels, that of static structure--of frameworks and patterns in space and time. It says nothing at all about the second level of interconnections across areas, connectivity of places, flows and interactions, let alone of the third, that of dynamic, interrelated processes. (Berry, 1964: 10)

Indeed, one cost of the synthesis was that process and relation, cherished by geographers as methodologically distanced by the rise of the quantitative methods as Hartshorne (1959) and Ullman (1980), were marginalized in encodable understandings of geographic data, rendered secondary and often unattainable, however desirable. This deployment of tabular technologies to constitute data has been influential to the geographical imagination. The table is a device for enabling certain relations and for restricting others. Berry understood and utilized this to make his argument for a synthesis. But I would also note that because entities and properties appear on orthogonal dimensions of the table, entities cannot have interrelations among them represented within the data model. Similarly, neither can properties. Tables here help individuate the world, providing representations compatible with a world of ontologically self-sufficient entities. (3)

Was it computationally necessary for the notion of geographic information to be constructed narrowly to focus on individuated objects indexed in absolute space to the exclusion of relational spaces emerging within and shaping socionatural process? How else might we constitute data--or even, how might we "data" differently?

Toward a geographic information for situated knowledges, vibrant matter, and relational spaces

How would geographic information change through dialogue with the commitments Haraway suggests here? Can geographic information be constituted not just as essentialized truth but as provisional, partial, and emergent within a dynamic web of interpretative practice? For scholars at the pioneering Speculative Computing Laboratory at the University of Virginia, who dared to believe we might reconstruct computing along humanistic lines instead of the reverse, "the single most important challenge we gave ourselves . was to design representations that modeled subjectivity within knowledge production" (Drucker, 2009: xiv). (4) Can geographic information be transformed to take both the material and the cultural seriously?

Cultural inquiry and the geo-interpretation

To suggest how "data" may be reconstructed to better resonate with some of the diverse theoretical commitments of the interpretative social sciences and humanities, let us first return to one of the clearest and most comprehensive discussions of what "geographic representation" could be understood to consist, Goodchild et al.'s (2007) "Towards a general theory of geographic representation in GIS." In an elegant and nuanced argument, Goodchild et al.:

. first reduce all geographic information to a very primitive form, which we term the geoatom. A geo-atom is defined as an association between a point location in space-time and a property. We write a geo-atom as a tuple <x, Z, z(x)> where x defines a point in space-time, Z identifies a property, and z(x) defines the particular value of the property at that point. For example, a geo-atom might indicate that at 120[degrees]W, 34[degrees]N, at Om above mean sea level, and at local noon on 11 July 2005 (a four-dimensional definition of x), the Celsius temperature (the property Z) was 20 (the value z(x)). (Goodchild et al., 2007: 243)

This is not to say that all computationally-inclined geographers or GIS software directly operate in terms of geo-atoms, but that Goodchild et al. argue the geo-atom is a meaningful abstraction, valuable because it can be aggregated and combined in various ways to derive other forms of geographic information. Here, we see an individuated, objectively knowable, object of knowledge that is primarily referenceable and contextualizable through its location in an absolute Newtonian space. Epistemologically, the geo-atom relies upon what Olsson might describe as the mimetic logic of the equals sign, that a description can be brought into equivalence with something else, that A=B. In such a geo-atom, is there room for the author, the observer or the situatedness of claims? (5) Can the reader and the interpretative act be seen?

What if we were to supplement the geo-atom by incorporating observers, authors, and readers into its expression? What if geographic information, at its most fundamental, were representable in a form closer to the tuple <x, Z, z(x,r), r>, where r situates the data in terms of authors, claimants, observers, subjects, or readers and acknowledges the interpretative nature of the information according to the context of its reception? If so, we have begun to reconstruct the geo-atom into what I term the geo-interpretation.

What might be the formal meaning of such an addition, r? The bolding of r is suggestive of a vector representation. Were this vector to be null in such a geo-interpretation, the invitation to encode context will have been declined. The geographical information would be equivalent to the previous concept of the geo-atom and would invoke the objective gaze from nowhere. The geo-interpretation would remain atomic and present, being the expression of an always-already individuated ontology. Much existing geographic information having been produced by modern organizations, having been constructed through the gaze (Pickles, 2004), would initially take this form, if later to be swept up into interpreted conversations of the sort advocated below.

Yet suppose that the vector, r, has at least one element. The first element, [r.sub.0], is to be a signifier for an observer, whether a scientist or someone rarely credited as an authority. Situating knowledge through the addition of an observer to the geo-atom lets the geo-interpretation acknowledge the specificity of claims. This is not to say that different observers would necessarily regard "the same" property differently (i.e. that z(x,r) would indeed vary as a function of r) but merely acknowledges that they may and that this difference should be fundamental to geographic information. Such differences among geo-interpretations should not be understood as mere "uncertainty" around a measurement of a single objective property but potentially as indicative of deeper ambiguity or polysemy.

Observers are not infinitesimal points acting alone from a tabula rasa. They may be understood as caught up in complex fields of discourse, or as engaged in rich processual worlds, at the moment of the geo-interpretation. Description, in interpretative research, is thick (Geertz, 1973). Ethnographic approaches, cultural studies, and literary criticism do, in often differing ways, explore how particular discursive, cultural, and intertextual contexts inform particular utterances, inscriptions, and meaning-making practices. (6) Understanding the outcomes, Z and z(x,r), will likely require greater insight into the [more-than-] discursive fields through which z(x,r) becomes meaningful for [r.sub.0] than can be expressed

by spatiotemporal coordinates given in an absolute Newtonian space, x. Indeed, in the geointerpretation, x is optional, only being non-null as relevant: why should all geographic information be "georeferenceable" in a simple coordinate space? The additional elements in r after the observer, [r.sub.0], are those contextual elements important to that observer's understanding of the interpretative event. In the most self-consistent approach, these elements are themselves all references to other geo-interpretations--a recursive, even fractal, gesture toward a deferral of meaning, reflecting a "process of ongoing critical interpretation among 'fields' of interpreters and decoders," as Haraway wrote. We thus move beyond the geo-atom (itself a move with implications for the spatiality of geographic information that we explore below).

Finally, z(x,r) records a description of the interpretation itself, with the parameters of x and r reminding us that the interpretation depends on sociospatial context. Whereas much Geographic Information today would have the observations, z(x), in geo-atoms take the form of numbers, geo-interpretations are at least as likely to have z(x,r) be text, images, or anything capable of being digitally encoded. Yet much remains ineffable there forever remains a gap between experience and its description, no matter how expansively multisensoral the latter become.

Can a geo-interpretation recognize that some individuals are usually in the position to speak for many others (even though we do have projects whose sociology of knowledge differ somewhat, such as OpenStreetMap see Sui et al., 2013)? The observer, [r.sub.0], will often not be the same as the person (or code) who specifies the context and encodes the geo-interpretation itself. But even if they were to be, it is appropriate to add another vector, s, to the geointerpretation to denote the scholar, researcher, or other contributor of the geointerpretative tuple. This vector, s, would be similar in spirit to r, but would allow a place for reflexivity on the part of the creator of the datum. Given this final element, we now state the geo-interpretation as <x, Z, z(x,r), r, s>.

Consider the implications of the geo-interpretation for what has been a dichotomy between data "producers" and "consumers". While most "readings" occur long after the measurements that contribute to the formulation of traditional geographic information, "readers" are necessarily engaged in interpretation. If readings are themselves understood as elements of geographical information, instead of a carefully constructed semiotic hierarchy, where meaning is linearly conveyed from observer to analyst to reader, we would allow for a web of iterative interpretation, leaving traces within the unfolding geographic information itself. Mappings, calculations, or other readings might likewise be altered. In the digital humanities, an experiment in speculative computing, the Ivanhoe Game, enabled groups of reflexive readers to take up subject positions to iteratively and interpretatively intervene in a textual field (Drucker, 2009 McGann, 2003). The geointerpretation likewise reworks how we engage "data" and how data participates in the construction of received conceptual boundaries between observer, data, researcher, and reader.

A few words of context and caution are appropriate at this point. Although it is conceivable that geo-interpretations could be enrolled in a modernist project seeking complete and certain empirical description of the world, the geo-interpretation would be much less useful than the geo-atom for such pursuits. A single geo-atom indicates objective knowledge of a single phenomenon. Epistemic progress is additive through the collection of geo-atoms. The geo-interpretation, by contrast, never has the final word on a phenomenon, nor are its phenomena likely to be individuable--not only is the passage of time likely to multiply perspectives instead of lead to convergence, not only does the reading of a geointerpretation suggest the traversal back through linked webs of geo-interpretations, but reading of a geo-interpretation itself suggests bringing a new, related geo-interpretation into being. The geo-interpretation smashes the geo-atom's mirror of nature (Rorty, 1979), with the resulting shards offering multiple, partial, shimmering views. If the geo-atom relies on the equals sign as its "symbol of mimetic desire", the geo-interpretation moves beyond to support inquiry whose mimetic desires find expression through the Hegelian slash and the semiotic bar as well (Olsson, 1991). It does not offer a way out of the modernist crisis of the sign that afflicts, however differently, positivist and critical interpretative approaches (see Olsson, 1991: 151-161). The geo-interpretation neither interprets itself nor others it does not explain anything by itself.

The geo-interpretation here does, however, raise the question of what would be an appropriate digital interlocutor to the interpretative scholar for the present era of proliferating computation. Many different possibilities should be explored. For example, specifying the precise nature of the subject, [r.sub.0], as well as the contexts (in the rest of r) relevant to a subject's interpretative act, requires a commitment to specific theories of the subject and of discourse--and these are hardly settled across the interpretative social sciences and humanities. Could or should an approach to geographical information include a specific data representation for individual subjects independent of their implicit invocations in particular geo-interpretations? If subjects are to be explicitly represented, where is the boundary between what is accounted as being internally constitutive versus as being context? The argument I wish to make in this article is one that remains meaningfully agnostic theoretically and therefore welcoming to many such possibilities under discussion in the theoretical humanities and the interpretative social sciences. However, in that spirit of discussion, I would like to also consider here particular [more-than-human] generalizations to the geo-interpretation.

[More-than-] human geographies and the geo-encounter

. the baroque sensibility to complexity is that it is endless and that most of it cannot be known in as many words. To know something, indeed to know it well, is not necessarily to make it explicit. It may be enough to reflect or refract or enact or embody it. [Everything will . be reflected or enacted or refracted or embodied in whatever is present. (Law, 2004: 23)

Geo-interpretations represent the context of the observer and of the phenomenon observed differently. The geo-interpretation provides richly for the representation of the contexts that lead to the observer or the reader constructing a particular outcome z(x,r). By contrast, the phenomenon being interpreted in the geo-interpretation is descriptively thin.

But what if the contexts most relevant to the constitution of the phenomenon being measured were also already articulated by the basic units of geographic information? We might allow that which is being interpreted its own history, its own complex of intensities, its own capacity for having had a variety of different interactions that were influential in its constitution, and different potentials for future interactions--we might say that it is an object (on which, more below) that is being interpreted. We therefore explore what one could call a geo-encounter (cf. Valentine, 2008).

In the geo-interpretation, the phenomenon encountered (previously called a property) was ontologically divided in its representation between three elements: the spatiotemporal coordinates at which the phenomenon occurs, x the type of phenomenon under consideration, Z and the actual observation of the encounter of r with that phenomenon. z(x,r). In the geo-encounter, by contrast, the interpretative scribe s now has the additional opportunity to specify what contexts, contained in a vector o, were relevant for the object (signified by [O.sub.0]) to have come to participate in this particular geo-encounter. What was called x in the case of the geo-atom--the spatiotemporal coordinates of the phenomenon under observation--is now folded in to the contextual elements in o, as potentially one among many. One may here again break with the assumption that all "geographic information" be defined by its primary reference to Cartesian spatiotemporal coordinates. In the geo-encounter, [r.sub.0] interprets (nee measures) the object with respect to Z--a particular property of, or perspective on, the object, or even a relation of the object to the interpreter--with the result being z(o,r). Let us encode a simple geo-encounter as: <o, Z, z(o,r), r, s>.

This concept of the geo-encounter has a degree of formal symmetry with respect to o and r. Yet this symmetry poses questions with respect to the relative capacities of to o and r: while by definition, r can perceive and interpret, it is yet unclear the extent to which o can do the same. Via the geo-encounter, we thus bring geographic information into important conversations in social thought about how subjects and objects, as well as meaning and materiality, relate. Appreciation of the insights that critical interpretative scholarship has brought need not be incompatible with attention to the many ways that not just humans, but other living and nonliving things participate in the world's becoming through relational process. Among others, new materialism, speculative realism, radical and speculative empiricism, object-oriented thought, actor-network theory, critical plant studies, multispecies ethnography, and Peircean semiotics all contribute to these lively debates (Barad, 2003 Bennett, 2010 Bryant, 2011 Bryant et al., 2011 Code and Frost, 2010 Ivakhiv, 2014 Kohn, 2013 Marder, 2013 Massumi, 2011 Parisi, 2013).

No single approach to geographic information could aspire to perfect consonance with such a diversity of ideas. Yet in the geo-encounter we find a theoretically minimalist approach that may be developed further in different ways through conversations these theoretical possibilities. In the geo-encounter above, we made reference to what we called objects. These "objects" already differ from the essentializing and self-sufficient objects advanced by most object-oriented programming and databases thus far used to construct geographic information. The objects of the geo-encounter are ontologically diverse and dynamic. By defining, thus far, objects (of which, some may be seen as subjects see Bryant, 2011 Ivakhiv, 2014 Massumi, 2011) implicitly in the terms of events, the geo-encounter allows for several ontological approaches to be brought in to the core commitments defining geographic information. For those approaches that are more process-relational, events and relations may be prior, whereas objects (and subjects) are emergent effects (Ivakhiv, 2014 Massumi, 2011 Parisi, 2013 Roberts, 2014 Whitehead, 1978). For other projects, monads, objects, and/or matter may lie at the center of the theoretical project (Bryant, 2011 Leibniz, 2012 Shaw and Meehan, 2013 Tarde, 2012). Of course, many texts in the contemporary conversation among speculative realisms, empiricisms, pragmatisms, and materialisms cited above do not fit neatly within such a division. Regardless, further articulations and variations on the geo-interpretation can provide the basis for constructing empirical tools with diverse theoretical commitments beyond those derived from, or reducible to, the geo-atom.

Accordingly, we might imagine generalized geo-encounters, in which the interpreter has been further generalized beyond the exclusively human. One representation for a generalized geo-encounter could be: <[O.sub.1], [O.sub.2], Z, z([O.sub.1], [O.sub.2]), s>. Yet there is no reason to limit generalized geo-encounters to only two objects. Often, interactions among several objects, human and non-human, will be relevant. Let us thus encode a generalized geo-encounter as: <[O.sub.1], [O.sub.2], . on, Z, z([O.sub.1], [O.sub.2], . on), s>, given whatever number of objects, n, is appropriate to the circumstances. The interpretative perspective is maintained, albeit in a more-than-human generalization, with the convention that the geo-encounter is recorded in the way it is made meaningful to (or, in Whiteheadian terms, prehended by) the last/rightmost object, on, in this tuple--again, as argued/encoded by scribe s.

It is instructive to compare the generalized geo-encounter with what Goodchild et al. term the geo-dipole, which they use to theorize how geo-atoms might be modified by interaction and process:

We define a geo-dipole as a tuple connecting a property and value not to one location in space-time as in the case of the geo-atom but to two: <[x.sub.1], [x.sub.2], Z, z([x.sub.1], [x.sub.2])>. Geo-dipoles capture . properties that are associated with two points rather than one. For example, Z might represent such properties as distance or direction in space, interaction intensity, time interval, flow intensity, or flow direction, and z([x.sub.1], [x.sub.2]) might represent their values for pairs ([x.sub.1], [x.sub.2]). (Goodchild et al., 2007: 251-252)

A two-object geo-encounter, <[o.sub.1], [o.sub.2], Z, z([o.sub.1], [o.sub.2]), s>, has much the same structure as the geodipole, <[x.sub.1], [o.sub.2], Z,z([x.sub.1], [x.sub.2])>, yet there are significant divergences in the theoretical commitments underlying their respective concepts of geographical information. The geoencounter (which has a basic commitment to situating the encoder, s, and has contextualized objects beyond just the context provided by spatiotemporal coordinates in x) will have a different set of potentially meaningful Z interaction properties and will allow for the possibility that the objects are asymmetric in how they render the interaction meaningful. By beginning a reformulation of geographic information through the specification of interpretations, performances, interactions, encounters, and/or relations (instead of beginning with precise specifications of ontologically primary entities to be aggregated and interrelated only later), we reflect a renewed commitment to the centrality of process and relation in new conceptions of geographic information.

On roles for spaces: relational and absolute

Such reformulations of geographic information may have potential to realign the allegiances of computational geography within debates in geographic thought, especially those regarding space. Concepts and practices of space are not solely a matter of abstract intellectual concern, but play a central role in late capitalist, Anthropocenic life. The construction of an absolute space, in particular, has been a tremendous human accomplishment requiring (and often enabling) many theoretical and practical developments, from the enlightenment cartographic project to much of the mathematical theorization of biophysical processes at the core of contemporary science and technology. In its constitution, circulation, and calculation, geographic information in its geo-atom variants has participated in reinscribing such an absolute spatiality, a container for entities that can be indexed with respect to the field's multi-dimensional coordinates constructed by a geodetic system.

Yet the adequacy of such concepts of space, often named in the geographic literature as Newtonian, after one of its key advocates in the Western canon (Leibniz and Clarke, 2000), has hardly gone unquestioned, especially in geography, anthropology, literature, and cognate fields where interpreting human experience and the cultural record have been important (Dear et al., 2011 Ingold, 2011 Westphal, 2011). Place is conceived not as a bounded and singular phenomenon but as a contested, narrated, networked, more-than-local intersection of processes (Adams et al., 2001 Massey, 2005 Pierce et al., 2011). Often from materialist positions, geographers have also long explored how the social and the spatial are mutually constitutive in urban and economic geographies across a variety of scales (Harvey, 1996 Sheppard and Barnes, 1990 Smith, 1984 Soja, 1980). The spatiality of social processes and relative positionalities of entities may well differ significantly from their relative distances in absolute spaces. One metaphor invoked to illustrate the complexities of social spaces has been that of wormholes (Sheppard, 2002). In all such pursuits, however, relational conceptions of space have received prominence, though the meanings and implications of such a shift in the concept of space remain under contest and construction (Malpas, 2012 Massey, 2005 Sheppard, 2008). The relative lack of support for such conceptions of space in geographic information has been critiqued (e.g. by Sheppard, 2005 though also see Freundschuh and Egenhofer, 1997 Massey, 1999 Raper and Livingstone, 1995).

The geo-interpretation and the geo-encounter bring simple relational conceptions of space into conversation with the absolute spaces that are constructed by previous concepts of geographic information. Geo-interpretations and geo-encounters do not stand alone, but within themselves reference additional geo-interpretations, geo-encounters, and/or potentially other phenomena, forming rich semiotic and processual webs. In doing so, they trace contributions to how spaces are produced and serve as active moments within sociospatial unfoldings. One way we may wish to interpret this, methodologically and ontologically, is that geo-interpretations and geo-events can therefore lend support to baroque, monadological readings of spatiality, in which we look not just outward, but inward, into phenomena to locate complexity and the global (Deleuze, 1993 Harvey, 1996 Latour et al., 2012 Leibniz, 2012 Tarde, 2012 and especially, Law, 2004). Internal relations may be explored interactively in their immediate heterogeneity, perhaps in a geographical analogue to how they have been by Latour et al.'s (2012) digital and monadological rethinking of the social.

Relations of geo-interpretations or geo-encounters may be reread as constituting mathematical networks interlinking objects. Many such networks are possible, depending on which types of relations (properties) are selected, as well as on whether (and how) they are understood to express relative degrees of interrelation among entities. To help fashion a visual interpretative practice for more-than-qualitative relational spaces, we might reappropriate how cartographers have constructed "distance cartograms" that fold, stretch, tear, and reattach absolute space until it approximately reflects other relationships among points than those based on physical distance (Gatrell, 1983 Tobler, 1961). If our webs of geo-interpretations contain some references to latitudes and longitudes in absolute space, hybrid cartographies that explore the intersection between absolute and relative spaces are possible. As interpretative spaces proliferate, so would coordinates associated with the resulting more-than-Cartesian geographic imaginaries, coordinates which may be far from easily reconcilable due to their associated differences in standpoints. We must design interfaces facilitating iterative interpretation and exploration (Drucker, 2009, 2011) of the resulting complexities of material and semiotic relations captured (cf. Martin and Secor, 2014). Here, we may find it helpful to build on work in critical GIS (Jung and Elwood, 2010 Knigge and Cope, 2009 Kwan and Ding, 2008) as well as diverse strategies of artistic engagements with cartography (see Crampton, 2009 Thompson, 2008).

In order to realize such ontological proposals in computational practice, creative approaches to data structures are needed. The ontological possibilities and practical success of classical geographic information have been closely associated with the tabular form, as argued above. The development of computing, intertwined as it has been with the needs of bureaucratic (in the Weberian sense) corporate capital, developed a solution to the storage, querying, and manipulation of large amounts of tabular data in "relational databases" (Castelle, 2013), (7) coming into development in the 1970s and dominance in the 1990s to 2000s. Variants of the associated language SQL can be used to construct and manipulate tables, enabling various criteria to be used to join, transform, and excerpt previously unconnected tables. Although the history of geographic information constitution and storage has seen the usage of various models for conceptualizing and organizing data, including object-oriented databases, geographic information today is largely shaped by connections to relational database thought and practice. "Spatial" relational databases, at the core of most GIS today, supplement relational database frameworks with efficient ways of indexing and operating on relational database records that are defined to exist within an absolute Newtonian space (see Shekhar and Chawla, 2003).

Yet the approach to an interpretative, situated knowledge in relational spaces introduced above appears to move beyond static and self-sufficient logics of objects, entities and properties, instead calling forth networks of diversifying, proliferating, events interrelating emergent objects. Fortunately, relevant practical alternatives to the relational database ontological paradigm do increasingly exist, especially in the forms of the semantic web and graph databases (Hart and Dolbear, 2013 Robinson et al., 2013). The latter, especially, have been taken up and developed rapidly by industry, resulting in efficient, open-source, absolute-space-aware databases whose ontological building blocks are not tables but diverse entities and their interconnections, neither of which need to be characterized ahead of time. This is a fortunate coincidence for efforts to constitute computational approaches embracing relational spaces, vibrant matter, and situated knowledge.

A key challenge will be to facilitate operations on such stores of data which support deferring semiotic closure. Our computation should be faithful to the shifting, interpretative character of our vision, not operate under the presumption that entities and first-order connections within the data store have been rendered entirely present. Such efforts need to not be tempted by a rush to computation, but to proceed slowly, in allegiance to and conversation with the rich traditions of interpretative scholarship. As time passes, will we constitute a critical geographical analysis responding not only to quantity, but at the same time, to interpretation, to context, to relation, and possibly to contradiction as well (cf. Bergmann et al., 2009 Doel, 2001 Lawson, 1995 Sheppard, 2001 Wyly, 2009)? This article suggests one possible approach to constructing the operands, but we would need more operators as well, and cautious research.

Computation and engagements with digital data are quite prevalent and valued in the academy, even in fields for which interpretative inquiry and continental social thought have been influential. Computational engagement with geographic data has even become a part of daily life over the past decade for those around the world with access to digital networks.

At present, scholars committed to situated, interpretative knowledge and relational concepts of space face dilemmas when invited to participate in these larger academic and societal computational practices. Does such a scholar participate with the hope that she can find ways to adequately trouble the epistemologies and ontologies assumed in the construction and use of a data genre such as "geographic information"? Does she participate, yet advance a pluralist dialogue between knowledge production practices? Does she reject participation in mainstream practices, wary of power differentials between approaches to inquiry, choosing instead to cultivate her work on its own terms?

I have offered support for a distinct, yet relevant, choice. We may articulate critiques of concepts and practices associated with "data" today, concepts and practices being often at odds with the ways many fields would otherwise engage in scholarly inquiry. But these insights can first and foremost be put to use in reconstructing those very concepts and practices of "data". Results obtained can increase the legibility of, legitimacy of, and resources for our scholarly commitments within worthwhile larger academic and societal conversations. But most importantly, interventions that realize approaches to constituting computation and data in closer resonance to critical social scientific and theoretical humanistic modes of inquiry are intellectually empowering to those very modes of inquiry on their own terms, offering both a digital empirical practice more easily countenanced and an interlocutor for exploring theoretical propositions. Computation and data have many potentialities. With our critical participation, we help shape which potentialities are actualized.

I greatly appreciate the community around the University of Washington Simpson Center for the Humanities and its Society of Scholars, as well as the inspirational milieu created by my colleagues associated with the "Revisiting Critical GIS" meeting in October 2014 at Friday Harbor, Washington.

Declaration of conflicting interests

The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: The University of Washington Simpson Center for the Humanities and its Society of Scholars provided support for this study.

(1.) Berry's self-conscious reappropriation for geography of the approach of an economist who had proposed how anthropology might organize and understand data and analysis (Berliner, 1962) is perhaps also evocative of classificatory strategies familiar to regional geography, such as Hettner's Ldnderkundliche Schema (Barnes, 2011).

(2.) Others, such as Gunnar Olsson, would later take the critique of related representations into fundamental epistemological and ontological terrain. Olsson pointed out how the usage of language within the type of project exemplified by the geographical matrix cannot but render people as things and operate as if there were identity between words (or, often, numbers) and worlds (e.g. Olsson, 1975).

(3.) For an illustrative contrast, consider that tabular representations contemporaneously constructing input-output matrices and social network relationships (Isard, 1960 Wasserman and Faust, 1994) may have more potential for relational ontologies. Such matrices do not represent entities merely in terms of their intensive characteristics, but express entities through representing their interconnections with other entities, whether ontologically similar or different. Associated analytical methods (such as those using the Leontief Inverse (Leontief, 1986) to explore the geographies of labor or carbon embodiments to commodities) also understand entities in terms of infinite tracings of the connective webs the matrices thus defined, a deferral of meaning that might even suggest comparisons with differance (Derrida, 1981) if it were not for the common (though not universal) coupling of quantification with a positivist desire for presence and equivalence: the "=", a different "symbol of mimetic desire" than that which "permeates deconstruction" (Olsson, 1991: 167-181).

(4.) Scholars who have sought to incorporate a sensitivity to subjectivity into our concepts of data have suggested that if "data" implies that it is that which is given, using the term "capta" would recognize that which is taken by situated individuals (Drucker, 2011 Kitchin and Dodge, 2011). Here, I provisionally retain the term "data" while exploring how one might reconstruct a significant genre of data to better resonate with relevant insights and debates of social-theoretic inquiry.

(5.) Critical and feminist GIS scholarship has created many openings for multiple readings and standpoints in research by critiquing and detourning already existing GIS assemblages (Dunn, 2007 Elwood, 2006 Knigge and Cope, 2009 Kwan, 2002 Kwan and Ding, 2008 Schuurman, 2006). This article supplements such efforts by engaging theoretical assumptions leading GIScientists argue are key to constructing those GIS assemblages.

(6.) By comparison, for approaches to qualitative research within geographic information systems, see, inter alia, Cope and Elwood (2009), Jung and Elwood (2010), and Wilson (2009).

(7.) This use of the term "relational" is a potent source of confusion. For databases, "relational" does not refer to a relational ontology in any of the diverse senses discussed elsewhere in this article and in social thought generally today. Relational, in the sense of databases, is a technical adjective that refers to the formalism used in the constitution of certain types of databases (Codd, 1970).

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University of Washington, USA

Luke Bergmann is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Washington.

Luke Bergmann, Department of Geography, University of Washington, Box 353550, Seattle WA 98195, USA.

Looking for a Provider of UK boundary data - Geographic Information Systems

Paper Information

Journal Information

American Journal of Geographic Information System

p-ISSN: 2163-1131 e-ISSN: 2163-114X

Quality Assessment of Volunteered Geographic Information

Roya Esmaili 1 , Farzin Naseri 2 , Ali Esmaili 3

1 GIS Engineering, Graduate University of Advanced Technology, Kerman, Iran

2 Dep. of GIS Engineering, Graduate University of Advanced Technology, Kerman, Iran

3 Dep. of RS Engineering, Graduate University of Advanced Technology, Kerman, Iran

Correspondence to: Roya Esmaili, GIS Engineering, Graduate University of Advanced Technology, Kerman, Iran.


Copyright © 2012 Scientific & Academic Publishing. All Rights Reserved.

Recent advances in spatial data collection technologies and online services dramatically increase the contribution of ordinary people to produce, share and use geographic information. Collecting spatial data and disseminating them on the internet by citizens has led to a huge source of spatial data termed as Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) by Mike Goodchild. Despite the advantages of VGI, there are a lot of doubts about its quality. This article examines the early literature on this phenomenon and illustrating the current methods for quality assessment and assurance of VGI. Almost all the existing researches are based on comparing the VGI data with the accurate official data. However in many cases there is no access to correct data, so looking for an alternative way to determine the quality of VGI data is essential. In this article a method for positional accuracy assessment of VGI is suggested based on comparing the existing data of the same place with each other according to the metadata that their creators have obtained. The proposed method was implemented for the different maps that were produced by various methods from our case study.

Keywords: Crowd-sourcing, Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI), Quality Assessment

Rediscovering Geography: New Relevance for Science and Society (1997)

Geography's relevance to science and society arises from a distinctive and integrating set of perspectives through which geographers view the world around them. This chapter conveys a sense of what is meant by a geographic perspective, whether it be applied in research, teaching, or practice. Due to space limitations, it does not attempt to cite the many excellent examples of research illustrating geography's perspectives the citations refer mainly to broad-ranging summaries of geographic research that are intended as resources for further reading.

Taking time to understand geography's perspectives is important because geography can be difficult to place within the family of academic disciplines. Just as all phenomena exist in time and thus have a history, they also exist in space and have a geography. Geography and history are therefore central to understanding our world and have been identified as core subjects in American education. Clearly, this kind of focus tends to cut across the boundaries of other natural and social science disciplines. Consequently, geography is sometimes viewed by those unfamiliar with the discipline as a collection of disparate specialties with no central core or coherence.

What holds most disciplines together, however, is a distinctive and coherent set of perspectives through which the world is analyzed. Like other academic disciplines, geography has a well-developed set of perspectives:

  1. geography's domains of synthesis: 1 environmental-societal dynamics relating human action to the physical environment, environmental dynamics linking physical systems, and human-societal dynamics linking economic, social, and political systems and
  2. spatial representation using visual, verbal, mathematical, digital, and cognitive approaches.

These three perspectives can be represented as dimensions of a matrix of geographic inquiry as shown in Figure 3.1.

The matrix of geographic perspectives. Geography's ways of looking at the world&mdashthrough its focus on place and scale (horizontal axis)&mdashcuts across its three domains of synthesis: human-societal dynamics, environmental dynamics, and environmental-societal dynamics (vertical axis). Spatial representation, the third dimension of the matrix, underpins and sometimes drives research in other branches of geography.

The term synthesis, as used in this report, refers to the way in which geographers often attempt to transcend the boundaries traditionally separating the various natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities disciplines in order to provide a broad-ranging analysis of selected phenomena. Such research benefits not only from bringing into one analysis ideas that are often treated separately in other disciplines but also from critically examining the disjunctures and contradictions among the ways in which different disciplines examine identical phenomena.

Geography's Ways of Looking at the World

A central tenet of geography is that "location matters" for understanding a wide variety of processes and phenomena. Indeed, geography's focus on location provides a cross-cutting way of looking at processes and phenomena that other disciplines tend to treat in isolation. Geographers focus on "real world" relationships and dependencies among the phenomena and processes that give character to any location or place. Geographers also seek to understand relationships among places: for example, flows of peoples, goods, and ideas that reinforce differentiation or enhance similarities. Geographers study the "vertical" integration of characteristics that define place as well as the "horizontal'' connections between places. Geographers also focus on the importance of scale (in both space and time) in these relationships. The study of these relationships has enabled geographers to pay attention to complexities of places and processes that are frequently treated in the abstract by other disciplines.

Integration in Place

Places are natural laboratories for the study of complex relationships among processes and phenomena. Geography has a long tradition of attempting to understand how different processes and phenomena interact in regions and localities, including an understanding of how these interactions give places their distinctive character.

The systematic analysis of social, economic, political, and environmental processes operating in a place provides an integrated understanding of its distinctiveness or character. The pioneering work of Hägerstrand (1970), for example, showed how the daily activity patterns of people can be understood as the outcome of a process in which individuals are constrained by the availability and geographic accessibility of locations with which they can interact. Research in this tradition since has shown that the temporal and spatial sequences of actions of individuals follow typical patterns in particular types of environments and that many of the distinctive characteristics of places result from an intersection of behavioral sequences constrained by spatial accessibility to the opportunities for interaction. Such systematic analysis is particularly central to regional and human geography, and it is a theme to which much geographic research continually returns. When such systematic analysis is applied to many different places, an understanding of geographic variability emerges. Of course, a full analysis of geographic variability must take account of processes that cross the boundaries of places, linking them to one another, and also of scale.

Interdependencies Between Places

Geographers recognize that a "place" is defined not only by its internal characteristics but also by the flows of people, materials (e.g., manufactured

goods, pollutants), and ideas from other places. These flows introduce interdependencies between places that can either reinforce or reduce differences. For example, very different agricultural land-use practices have evolved under identical local environmental conditions as a result of the distance to market affecting the profitability of crops. At a macroscale, the widespread and global flow of Western cultural values and economic systems has served to reduce differences among many peoples of the world. An important focus of geography is on understanding these flows and how they affect place.

The challenge of analyzing the flows and their impacts on place is considerable. Such relationships have all the characteristics of complex nonlinear systems whose behavior is hard to represent or predict. These relationships are becoming increasingly important for science and decision making, as discussed in Chapters 5 and 6.

Interdependencies Among Scales

Geographers recognize that the scale of observation also matters for understanding geographic processes and phenomena at a place. Although geography is concerned with both spatial and temporal scales, the enduring dimension of the geographic perspective is the significance of spatial scales, from the global to the highly local.

Geographers have noted, for example, that changing the spatial scale of analysis can provide important insights into geographic processes and phenomena and into understanding how processes and phenomena at different scales are related. A long-standing concern of geographers has been the "regionalization problem," that is, the problem of demarcating contiguous regions with common geographic characteristics. Geographers recognize that the internal complexity and differentiation of geographic regions is scale-dependent and, thus, that a particular set of regions is always an incomplete and possibly misleading representation of geographic variation.

Identifying the scales at which particular phenomena exhibit maximum variation provides important clues about the geographic, as well as the temporal, scope of the controlling mechanisms. For example, spectral analyses of temperature data, revealing the geographic scales at which there is maximum similarity in temperature, can provide important clues about the relative influence of microclimates, air masses, and global circulation on temperature patterns. A global rise in average temperature could have highly differentiated local impacts and may even produce cooling in certain localities because of the way in which global, regional, and local processes interact. By the same token, national and international economic and political developments can have highly differentiated impacts on the economic competitiveness of cities and states. The focus on scale enables geographers to analyze the impact of global changes on local events&mdashand the impact of local events on global changes.

Domains of Synthesis 2

Geography's most radical departure from conventional disciplinary specializations can be seen in its fundamental concern for how humans use and modify the biological and physical environment (the biophysical environment) that sustains life, or environmental-societal dynamics. There are two other important domains of synthesis within geography as well: work examining interrelationships among different biophysical processes, or environmental dynamics, and work synthesizing economic, political, social, and cultural mechanisms, or human-societal dynamics. These domains cut across and draw from the concerns about place embedded in geography's way of looking at the world.

Environmental-Societal Dynamics

This branch of the discipline reflects, perhaps, geography's longest-standing concern and is thus heir to a rich intellectual tradition. The relationships that it studies&mdashthe dynamics relating society and its biophysical environment&mdashtoday are not only a core element of geography but are also of increasingly urgent concern to other disciplines, decision makers, and the public. Although the work of geographers in this domain is too varied for easy classification, it includes three broad but overlapping fields of research: human use of and impacts on the environment, impacts on humankind of environmental change, and human perceptions of and responses to environmental change.

Human Use of and Impacts on the Environment

Human actions unavoidably modify or transform nature in fact, they are often intended specifically to do so. These impacts of human action have been so extensive and profound that it is now difficult to speak of a "natural" environment. Geographers have contributed to at least three major global inventories of human impacts on the environment (Thomas, 1956 Turner et al., 1990 Mather and Sdasyuk, 1991) and have contributed to the literature of assessment, prescription, and argument regarding their significance. Studies at local and regional levels have clarified specific instances of human-induced landscape transformation: for example, environmental degradation in the Himalayas, patterns and processes of deforestation in the Philippines and the Amazon, desiccation of the Aral Sea, degradation of landscapes in China, and the magnitude and character of pre-Hispanic environmental change in the Americas.

Geographers study the ways in which society exploits and, in doing so,

Citations in this section do not refer to major research contributions since these are the focus of Chapter 5. They refer the reader to books and articles that provide a more detailed discussion of the topic than can be provided here.

degrades, maintains, improves, or redefines its natural resource base. Geographers ask why individuals and groups manipulate the environment and natural resources in the ways they do (Grossman, 1984 Hecht and Cockburn, 1989). They have examined arguments about the roles of carrying capacity and population pressures in environmental degradation, and they have paid close attention to the ways in which different cultures perceive and use their environments (Butzer, 1992). They have devoted considerable attention to the role of political-economic institutions, structures, and inequities in environmental use and alteration, while taking care to resist portraying the environment as an empty stage on which social conflicts are acted out (Grossman, 1984 Zimmerer, 1991 Carney, 1993).

Environmental Impacts on Humankind

Consequences for humankind of change in the biophysical environment&mdashwhether endogenous or human-induced&mdashare also a traditional concern for geographers. For instance, geographers were instrumental in extending the approaches of environmental impact analysis to climate. They have produced important studies of the impact of natural climate variation and projected human-induced global warming on vulnerable regions, global food supply, and hunger. They have studied the impacts of a variety of other natural and environmental phenomena, from floods and droughts to disease and nuclear radiation releases (Watts, 1983 Kates et al., 1985 Parry et al., 1988 Mortimore, 1989 Cutter, 1993). These works have generally focused on the differing vulnerabilities of individuals, groups, and geographic areas, demonstrating that environmental change alone is insufficient to understand human impacts. Rather, these impacts are articulated through societal structures that give meaning and value to change and determine in large part the responses taken.

Human Perceptions of and Responses to Environmental Change

Geographers have long-recognized that human-environment relations are greatly influenced not just by particular activities or technologies but also by the very ideas and attitudes that different societies hold about the environment. Some of geography's most influential contributions have documented the roots and character of particular environmental views (Glacken, 1967 Tuan, 1974). Geographers have also recognized that the impacts of environmental change on human populations can be strongly mitigated or even prevented by human action. Accurate perception of change and its consequences is a key component in successful mitigation strategies. Geographers studying hazards have made important contributions to understanding how perceptions of risk vary from reality (Tuan, 1974) and how communication of risk can amplify or dampen risk signals (Palm, 1990 Kasperson and Stallen, 1991).

Accurate perceptions of available mitigation strategies is an important aspect

of this domain, captured by Gilbert F. White's geographic concept of the "range of choice," which has been applied to inform policy by illuminating the options available to different actors at different levels (Reuss, 1993). In the case of floodplain occupancy, for instance, such options include building flood control works, controlling development in flood-prone areas, and allowing affected individuals to absorb the costs of disaster. In the case of global climate change, options range from curtailing greenhouse gas (e.g., carbon dioxide) emissions to pursuing business as usual and adapting to change if and when it occurs. Geographers have assembled case studies of societal responses to a wide variety of environmental challenges as analogs for those posed by climate and other environmental change and have examined the ways in which various societies and communities interpret the environments in questions (Jackson, 1984 Demeritt, 1994 Earle, 1996).

Environmental Dynamics

Geographers often approach the study of environmental dynamics from the vantage point of natural science (Mather and Sdasyuk, 1991). Society and its roles in the environment remain a major theme, but human activity is analyzed as one of many interrelated mechanisms of environmental variability or change. Efforts to understand the feedbacks among environmental processes, including human activities, also are central to the geographic study of environmental dynamics (Terjung, 1982). As in the other natural sciences, advancing theory remains an overarching theme, and empirical verification continues to be a major criterion on which efficacy is judged.

Physical geography has evolved into a number of overlapping subfields, although the three major subdivisions are biogeography, climatology, and geomorphology (Gaile and Willmott, 1989). Those who identify more with one subfield than with the others, however, typically use the findings and perspectives from the others to inform their research and teaching. This can be attributed to physical geographers' integrative and cross-cutting traditions of investigation, as well as to their shared natural science perspective (Mather and Sdasyuk, 1991). Boundaries between the subfields, in turn, are somewhat blurred. Biogeographers, for example, often consider the spatial dynamics 3 of climate, soils, and topography when they investigate the changing distributions of plants and animals, whereas climatologists frequently take into account the influences that landscape heterogeneity and change exert on climate. Geomorphologists also account for climatic forcing and vegetation dynamics on erosional and depositional process. The three major

The term spatial dynamics refers to the movement, translocation of, or change in phenomena (both natural and human) over geographic space. The study of spatial dynamics focuses on the natural, social, economic, cultural, and historical factors that control or condition these movements and translocations.

subfields of physical geography, in other words, not only share a natural science perspective but differ simply with respect to emphasis. Each subfield, however, will be summarized separately here in deference to tradition.


Biogeography is the study of the distributions of organisms at various spatial and temporal scales, as well as the processes that produce these distribution patterns. Biogeography lies at the intersection of several different fields and is practiced by both geographers and biologists. In American and British geography departments, biogeography is closely allied with ecology.

Geographers specializing in biogeography investigate spatial patterns and dynamics of individual plant and animal taxa and the communities and ecosystems in which they occur, in relation to both natural and anthropogenic processes. This research is carried out at local to regional spatial scales. It focuses on the spatial characteristics of taxa or communities as revealed by fieldwork and/or the analysis of remotely sensed images. This research also focuses on historic changes in the spatial characteristics of taxa or communities as reconstructed, for example, from land survey records, photographs, age structures of populations, and other archival or field evidence. Biogeographers also reconstruct prehistoric and prehuman plant and animal communities using paleoecological techniques such as pollen analysis of lake sediments or faunal analysis of midden or cave deposits. This research has made important contributions to understanding the spatial and temporal dynamics of biotic communities as influenced by historic and prehistoric human activity as well as by natural variability and change.


Geographic climatologists are interested primarily in describing and explaining the spatial and temporal variability of the heat and moisture states of the Earth's surface, especially its land surfaces. Their approaches are quite varied, including (1) numerical modeling of energy and mass fluxes from the land surface to the atmosphere (2) in situ measurements of mass and energy fluxes, especially in human-modified environments (3) description and evaluation of climatically relevant characteristics of the land surface, often through the use of satellite observations and (4) the statistical decomposition and categorization of weather data. Geographic climatologists have made numerous contributions to our understanding of urban and regional climatic systems, and they are beginning to examine macroscale climatic change as well. They have also examined the statistical relationships among weather, climate, and sociological data. Such analyses have suggested some intriguing associations, for example, between urban growth and warming (Oke, 1979) and the seasonal heating cycle and crime frequency (Harries et al., 1984).


Geomorphological research in geography emphasizes the analysis and prediction of Earth surface processes and forms. The Earth's surface is constantly being altered under the combined influences of human and natural factors. The work of moving ice, blowing wind, breaking waves, collapse and movement from the force of gravity, and especially flowing water sculptures a surface that is constantly being renewed through volcanic and tectonic activity.

Throughout most of the twentieth century, geomorphological research has focused on examining stability in the landscape and the equilibrium between the forces of erosion and construction. In the past two decades, however, emphasis has shifted toward efforts to characterize change and the dynamic behavior of surface systems. Whatever the emphasis, the method of analysis invariably involves the definition of flows of mass and energy through the surface system, and an evaluation or measurement of forces and resistance at work. This analysis is significant because if geomorphologists are to predict short-term, rapid changes (such as landslides, floods, or coastal erosion in storms) or long-term, rapid changes (such as erosion caused by land management or strip mining), the natural rates of change must first be understood.

Human-Societal Dynamics: From Location Theory to Social Theory

The third domain focuses on the geographic study of interrelated economic, social, political, and cultural processes. Geographers have sought a synthetic understanding of such processes through attention to two types of questions: (1) the ways in which those processes affect the evolution of particular places and (2) the influence of spatial arrangements and our understanding on those processes. Much of the early geographical work in this area emphasized locational decision making spatial patterns and their evolution were explained largely in terms of the rational spatial choices of individual actors (e.g., Haggett et al., 1979 Berry and Parr, 1988).

Beginning with Harvey (1973), a new cohort of scholars began raising questions about the ways in which social structures condition individual behavior and, more recently, about the importance of political and cultural factors in social change (Jackson and Penrose, 1993). This has matured as an influential body of work founded in social theory, which has devoted considerable effort to understanding how space and place mediate the interrelations between individual actions and evolving economic, political, social, and cultural patterns and arrangements and how spatial configurations are themselves constructed through such processes (e.g., Gregory and Urry, 1985 Harvey, 1989 Soja, 1989 Wolch and Dear, 1989).

This research has gained wide recognition both inside and outside the disci-

pline of geography as a result, issues of space and place are now increasingly seen as central to social research. Indeed, one of the principal journals for interdisciplinary research in social theory, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, was founded by geographers. The nature and impact of research that has sought to bridge the gap between social theory and conceptualizations of space and place are evident in recent studies of both the evolution of places and the interconnections among places.

Societal Synthesis in Place

Geographers who study societal processes in place have tended to focus on micro- or mesoscales. Research on cities has been a particularly influential area of research, showing how the internal spatial structure of urban areas depends on the operation of land markets, industrial and residential location decisions, population composition, forms of urban governance, cultural norms, and the various influences of social groups differentiated along lines of race, class, and gender. The impoverishment of central cities has been traced to economic, social, political, and cultural forces accelerating suburbanization and intraurban social polarization. Studies of urban and rural landscapes examine how the material environment reflects, and shapes, cultural and social developments, in work ranging from interpretations of the social meanings embedded in urban architecture to analyses of the impacts of highway systems on land uses and neighborhoods (Knox, 1994).

Researchers have also focused on the living conditions and economic prospects of different social and ethnic groups in particular cities, towns, and neighborhoods, with particular attention recently to how patterns of discrimination and employment access have influenced the activity patterns and residential choices of urban women (e.g., McDowell, 1993a, b). Researchers have also attempted to understand the economic, social, and political forces reinforcing the segregation of poor communities, as well as the persistence of segregation between certain racial and ethnic groups, irrespective of their socioeconomic status. A geographical perspective on such issues ensures that groups are not treated as undifferentiated wholes. By focusing attention on disadvantaged communities in inner cities, for example, geographers have offered significant evidence of what happens when jobs and wealthier members of a community leave to take advantage of better opportunities elsewhere (Urban Geography, 1991).

Geographical work on place is not limited to studies of contemporary phenomena. Geographers long have been concerned with the evolving character of places and regions, and geographers concerned with historical developments and processes have made important contributions to our understanding of places past and present. These contributions range from sweeping interpretations of the historical evolution of major regions (e.g., Meinig, 1986 et seq.) to analyses of the changing ethnic character of cities (Ward, 1971) to the role of capitalism in

urban change (Harvey, 1985a, b). Studies along these lines go beyond traditional historical analysis to show how the geographical situation and character of places influence not only how those places develop but larger social and ideological formations as well.

Space, Scale, and Human-Societal Dynamics

Studies of the social consequences of linkages between places focus on a variety of scales. One body of research addresses spatial cognition and individual decision making and the impact of individual action on aggregate patterns. Geographers who study migration and residential choice behavior seek to account for the individual actions underlying the changing social structure of cities or shifting interurban populations. Research along these lines has provided a framework for modeling the geographical structure of interaction among places, resulting inter alia in the development of operational models of movement and settlement that are now widely used by urban and regional planners throughout Europe (Golledge and Timmermans, 1988).

Geographers also have contributed to the refinement of location theories that reflect actual private and public decision making. Initially, much of this research looked at locational issues at particular moments in time. Work by Morrill (1981) on political redistricting, for example, provided insights into the many ways in which administrative boundary drawing reflects and shapes political ideas and practices. More recent work has focused on the evolution of industrial complexes and settlement systems. This work has combined the insights of location theory with studies of individual and institutional behavior in space (Macmillan, 1989). At the interurban and regional scales, geographers have studied nationwide shifts in the location and agglomeration of industries and interurban migration patterns. These studies have revealed important factors shaping the growth prospects of cities and regions.

An interest in the relationship between individual behavior and broader-scale societal structures prompted geographers to consider how individual decisions are influenced by, and affect, societal structures and institutions (e.g., Peet and Thrift, 1989). Studies have tackled issues ranging from human reproduction and migration decisions to recreation and political protest. Researchers have shown how movement decisions depend on social and political barriers, the distribution of economic and political resources and broader-scale processes of societal restructuring. They have examined how the increased mobility of jobs and investment opportunities have affected local development strategies and the distribution of public resources between firms and households.

Indeed, there is new interest in theorizing the geographical scales at which different processes are constituted and the relationship between societal processes operating at different scales (Smith, 1992 Leitner and Delaney, 1996). Geographers recognize that social differences from place to place reflect not only differ-

ences in the characteristics of individual localities but also differences in how they are affected by societal processes operating at larger scales. Research has shown, for example, that the changing growth prospects of American cities and regions cannot adequately be understood without taking into account the changing position of the United States in the global system and the impact of this change on national political and economic trends (Peet, 1987 Smith and Feagin, 1987).

Geographic research also has focused explicitly on the spatial manifestations of institutional behavior, notably that of large multilocational firms national, state, and local governments and labor unions. Research on multilocational firms has examined their spatial organization, their use of geographical strategies of branch-plant location and marketing in order to expand into or maintain geographically defined markets, and the way their actions affect the development possibilities of different places (Scott, 1988b Dicken, 1992). Research into state institutions has focused on such issues as territorial integration and fragmentation evolving differences in the responsibilities and powers exercised by state institutions at different geographical scales and political and economic rivalries between territories, including their impact on political boundaries and on geopolitical spheres of influence. Observed shifts in the location of political influence and responsibility away from traditional national territories to both local states and supranational institutions demonstrate the importance of studying political institutions across a range of geographical scales (Taylor, 1993).

Spatial Representation

The importance of spatial representation as a third dimension of geography's perspectives (see Figure 3.1) is perhaps best exemplified by the long and close association of cartography with geography (see Chapter 4). Research emphasizing spatial representation complements, underpins, and sometimes drives research in other branches of geography and follows directly from the thesis that location matters. Geographers involved in spatial representation research use concepts and methods from many other disciplines and interact with colleagues in those fields, including computer science, statistics, mathematics, geodesy, civil engineering, cognitive science, formal logic, cognitive psychology, semiotics, and linguistics. The goals of this research are to produce a unified approach to spatial representation and to devise practical tools for representing the complexities of the world and for facilitating the synthesis of diverse kinds of information and diverse perspectives.

How geographers represent geographic space, what spatial information is represented, and what space means in an age of advanced computer and telecommunications technology are critical to geography and to society. Research linking cartographic theory with philosophies of science and social theory has demonstrated that the way problems are framed, and the tools that are used to structure and manipulate data, can facilitate investigation of particular categories of prob-

lems and, at the same time, prevent other categories of problems from even being recognized as such. By dictating what matters, representations help shape what scientists think and how they interpret their data (Sack, 1986 Harley, 1988 Wood, 1992).

Geographic approaches to spatial representation are closely linked to a set of core spatial concepts (including location, region, distribution, spatial interaction, scale, and change) that implicity constrain and shape how geographers represent what they observe. In effect, these concepts become a priori assumptions underlying geographic perspectives and shaping decisions by geographers about how to represent their data and what they choose to represent.

Geographers approach spatial representation in a number of ways to study space and place at a variety of scales. Tangible representations of geographic space may be visual, verbal, mathematical, digital, cognitive, or some combination of these. Reliance on representation is of particular importance when geographic research addresses intangible phenomena (e.g., atmospheric temperature or average income) at scales beyond the experiential (national to global) and for times in the past or future. Tangible representations (and links among them) also provide a framework within which synthesis can take place. Geographers also study cognitive spatial representations&mdashfor example, mental models of geographic environments&mdashin an effort to understand how knowledge of the environment influences peoples' behavior in that environment and make use of this knowledge of cognitive representation in developing approaches to other forms of representation.

Visual representation of geographic space through maps was a cornerstone of geographic inquiry long before its formal recognition as an academic area of research, yet conventional maps are not the only visual form used in geographic research. Figure 3.2 shows that conventional maps occupy a midpoint along a continuum of visual representation forms. This continuum can be defined by a dimension scale, which ranges from atomic to cosmological, and abstractness level, which ranges from images to line drawings.

Due to the centrality of geographic maps as a means for spatial representation, however, concepts developed for mapping have had an impact on all forms of spatial representation. This role as a model and catalyst for visual representation throughout the sciences is clear in Hall's (1992) recent popular account of mapping as a research tool used throughout science, as well as the recognition by computer scientists that maps are a fundamental source of many concepts used in scientific visualization (Collins, 1993).

An active field of geographic research on spatial representation involves formalizing the ''language" for visual geographic representation. Another important field of research involves improved depiction of the Earth's surface. A notable example is the recent advance in matching computational techniques for terrain shading with digital elevation databases covering the conterminous United States (see Sidebar 3.1).

The conventional map is one of many visual representations of space used by geographers and other scientists. As one of a continuum of spatial representations, maps occupy a "fuzzy" category defined by an "abstractness level" (horizontal axis) and a "scale dimension" (vertical axis).

Source: After MacEachren (1995, Figure 4.3).

Verbal representation refers to attempts to evoke landscapes through a carefully constructed description in words. Some of the geographers who have become best known outside the discipline rely almost exclusively on this form of representation. Geographers have drawn new attention to the power of both verbal and visual representations, exploring the premise that every representation has multiple, potentially hidden, and perhaps duplicitous, meanings (Gregory, 1994).

A current field of research linking verbal and visual forms of spatial representation concerns hypermedia documents designed for both research and instructional applications. The concept of a geographic script (analogous to a movie script) has been proposed as a strategy for leading people through a complex web of maps, graphics, pictures, and descriptions developed to provide information about a particular issue (Monmonier, 1992).

Mathematical representations include models of space, which emphasize location, regions, and distributions models of functional association and models of process, which emphasize spatial interaction and change in place. Visual maps, of course, are grounded in mathematical models of space, and it can be demonstrated that all map depictions of geographic position are, in essence, mathematical transformations from the Earth to the plane surface of the page or

computer display screen. The combination of visual and mathematical representation draws on advantages inherent in each (see Plate 2).

A good example of the link between mathematical and visual representation is provided by the Global Demography Project (Tobler et al., 1995). In this project more than 19,000 digitized administrative polygons and associated population counts covering the entire world were extrapolated to 1994 and then converted to spherical cells. The data are available as a raster map, accessible on the World Wide Web from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Consortium for the International Earth Science Information Network, Socioeconomic and Economic Data Center, which supported the project.

Cognitive representation is the way individuals mentally represent information about their environment. Human cognitive representations of space have been studied in geography for more than 25 years. They range from attempts to derive "mental maps" of residential desirability to assessing ways in which knowledge of spatial position is mentally organized, the mechanisms through which this knowledge expands with behavior in environments, and the ways in which environmental knowledge can be used to support behavior in space. The resulting wealth of knowledge about spatial cognition is now being linked with visual and digital forms of spatial representation. This link is critical in such research fields as designing interfaces for geographic information systems (GISs) and developing structures for digital geographic databases. Recent efforts to apply the approaches of cognitive science to modeling human spatial decision making have opened promising research avenues related to way finding, spatial choice, and the development of GIS-based spatial decision support systems. In addition, research about how children at various stages of cognitive development cope with maps and other forms of spatial representation is a key component in efforts to improve geography education.

Digital representation is perhaps the most active and influential focus of representational research because of the widespread use of GISs and computer mapping. Geographers have played a central role in the development of the representational schemes underpinning GISs and computer mapping systems. Geographers working with mathematicians at the U.S. Census Bureau in the 1960s were among the first to recognize the benefits of topological structures for vector-based digital representations of spatial data. This vector-based approach (the Dual Independent Map Encoding system, more recently replaced by the Topologically Integrated Geographical Encoding and Referencing system, or TIGER) has become the linchpin of the Census Bureau's address-matching system. It has been adapted to computer mapping through an innovative system for linking topological and metrical geographic representations. Related work by geographers and other scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS) National Mapping Division led to the development of a digital mapping system (the Digital Line Graph format) and has allowed the USGS to become a major provider of digital spatial data.

Geographers working in GIS research have investigated new approaches to raster (grid-based) data structures. Raster structures are compatible with the structure of data in remote sensing images, which continue to be a significant source of input data for GIS and other geographic applications. Raster structures are also useful for overlying spatial data. Developments in vector and raster data structures have been linked through an integrated conceptual model that, in effect, is eliminating the raster-vector dichotomy (Peuquet, 1988).

U.S. geographers have also played a leading role in international collaboration directed at the generalization of digital representations (Buttenfield and McMaster, 1991). This research is particularly important because solutions to key generalization problems are required before the rapidly increasing array of digital georeferenced data can be integrated (through GISs) to support multiscale geographic analysis. Generalization in the digital realm has proved to be a difficult problem because different scales of analysis demand not only more or less detailed information but also different kinds of information represented in fundamentally different ways.

Increasingly, the aspects of spatial representation discussed above are being linked through digital representations. Transformations from one representation to another (e.g., from mathematical to visual) are now routinely done using a digital representation as the intermediate step. This reliance on digital representation as a framework for other forms of representation brings with it new questions concerning the impact of digital representation on the construction of geographic knowledge.

One recent outgrowth of the spatial representation traditions of geography is a multidisciplinary effort in geographic information science. This field emphasizes coordination and collaboration among the many disciplines for which geographic information and the rapidly emerging technologies associated with it are of central importance. The University Consortium for Geographic Information Science (UCGIS), a nonprofit organization of universities and other research institutions, was formed to facilitate this interdisciplinary effort. UCGIS is dedicated to advancing the understanding of geographic processes and spatial relationships through improved theory, methods, technology, and data.

Geographic Epistemologies 4

This survey of geography's perspectives illustrates the variety of topics pursued by geography as a scientific discipline, broadly construed. The methods and approaches that geographers have used to generate knowledge and understanding of the world about them&mdashthat is, its epistemologies&mdashare similarly broad. The post-World War II surge in theoretical and conceptual geography, work

The term epistemology refers to the methods of knowledge acquisition.