Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology

April 5, 2022

Humanistic GIS: Towards a Research Agenda

Title: Humanistic GIS: Towards a Research Agenda

Abstract: The accelerated proliferation of GIS, especially in the last decade, has greatly expanded the connotation of GIS technology from primarily a diverse suite of digital objects, representations, and devices that create or make use of geographical information to a mediated means with which we humans experience, explore, or make sense of the world. In this talk, the presenter will introduce a newly proposed research perspective Humanistic GIS (Zhao, 2022) that can better encompass the expanded category of GIS technology as well as the accompanying opportunities and challenges. Deeply rooted in humanistic geography, humanistic GIS offers a systematic framework that situates GIS in its mediation of human experience and further categorizes GIS through its embodiment, hermeneutic, autonomous, and background relations with the involved human and place. Humanistic GIS represents a shift from those earlier waves of making or doing GIS, when GIS was more primarily a technology of research and representation – not also as immediately mediating everyday emplaced human life as it is today. To better present the main ideas and merits of humanistic GIS, the presenter will demonstrate a few empirical studies in which he has participated during the past three years, such as using human mobility data to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on black-owned restaurants, Crypto Place on Blockchain (Zhao and Huang, 2020), Deepfake Geography (Zhao et. al., 2021), Cyber Protest at #Standing Rock (Zhang et. al., 2021). By this talk, the presenter would like to think with the audience on a humanistic pathway for the next chapter of GIS.

Zhao, B. (2022) Humanistic GIS: Towards a research agenda. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, doi: 10.1080/24694452.2021.2004875

Zhang, S., Zhao, B., Tian, Y., & Chen, S. (2021). Stand with# StandingRock: Envisioning an epistemological shift in understanding geospatial big data in the “post-truth” era. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 111(4), 1025-1045.

Zhao, B., Zhang, S., Xu, C., Sun, Y., & Deng, C. (2021). Deep fake geography? When geospatial data encounter Artificial Intelligence. Cartography and Geographic Information Science, 48(4), 338-352.

Zhao, B., & Huang, X. (2020). Encrypted monument: The birth of crypto place on the blockchain. Geoforum, 116, 149-152.

Zhao, B., Van Den Hoek J., Alix-Garcia, J., Svevo, G., Franklin, GB, Katz, G. (2019). Global Refugee Atlas.

Short bio: Bo Zhao is an associate professor from the Department of Geography at the University of Washington, Seattle. He also directs the humanistic GIS Lab. Prior to his position at UW, he worked as an assistant professor at Oregon State University, and a postdoc at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He earned his Ph.D. Degree from the Ohio State University in 2015. Dr. Zhao’s research efforts lie at the intersection between GIScience and Human Geography, and develop a unique research agenda around the social implications of newly emerging GIS technologies, especially for the interests of vulnerable populations, such as refugees displaced by climate change effects or LGBTQ+ communities in repressive national contexts. Zhao studies how spatial data streams from social media are used in high profile social and political struggles, looking for instance at “location-spoofing” by activists – like indigenous groups involved in territorial struggles – or by reactionary groups agitating over “fake news.” His publication on deepfake geography urges GIScientists to develop coping strategies to the ambivalent nature of GeoAI in the age of “post-truth”, and his recent studies have been funded by NSF, National Geographic, and Google. Two months ago, his paper entitled “humanistic GIS” was in circulation through the Annals of AAG, and it has received a lot of attention from the GIScience community. His presentation today will introduce this humanistic perspective on GIS and demonstrated how this perspective can support digital humanities and further rewire the development of GIS.