Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Women and Technology in Geography: A Cyborg Manifesto for GIS. (Focus: Equity for Women in Geography)

Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Women and Technology in Geography: A Cyborg Manifesto for GIS. (Focus: Equity for Women in Geography)

Article excerpt

Geography is dividing into ever increasing niches (Sui 2000). Evidence of this trend is manifest in the recent appointment of four separate editors for the flagship journal Annals of the Association of American Geographers. From this proliferation of interests, several new sub-disciplines have emerged, and geographic information science (GIS) and feminism are among them. Both of these sub-disciplines are relatively new to geography. Two decades ago, a course in `Feminist geography' would have been considered radical though `Gender and Geography' did enter some curricula by the 1980s. The explosion of GIS in geography is, likewise, a contemporary phenomenon with a comparable time-line. Despite the importance of their respective impacts, these two prominent areas of the discipline remain worlds unto themselves. This paper is a call to diminish the space between these two islands of geography as a means of addressing the broader problem of achieving greater equity for women and other minorities within the discipline of geography.

I argue that bridging the space between feminist geography and GIS can be accomplished by (i) demonstrating that GIS is a part of technoscience that is more inductive and potentially political than may appear to social scientists; (ii) arguing that past analyses of GIS from human geographers have been flawed while GIS advocates have failed to convey its potential for idiographic and qualitative studies in a feminist context; and (iii) suggesting that feminist geographers have much to gain by engaging with the cyborg among us. I use technoscience in the way that Bruno Latour (1987) used it when he coined the word. He offers a pragmatic explanation for its deployment--it saves writing out technology and science each time. In the case of GIS, it also acknowledges that science and technology are inextricably linked. These steps are offered as vehicles to increase the number of women in technical geography, and thus influence the direction of GIS research.

Where are the Women in the Geographical Sciences and Information Technology?

This exhortation is based on the premise that there are significantly fewer women than men in geographical sciences (CAG 1996). How true is this assumption? The equity report on Canadian geography indicated that there are ten male faculty in GIS and remote sensing for every woman (see Koyayashi this issue). Physical geography follows this pattern with women constituting 12 percent of faculty in 1996. For purposes of comparison, 19 percent of Canadian faculty in human geography were female during the same year, a better ratio but not overly encouraging. GIS differs from the rest of the discipline in that it integrates information technology (IT) and geography, and its enrollment patterns are presumably a reflection of both disciplines. Across the United States and Canada, the number of women studying IT has decreased since the 1970s. Maria Klawe, Dean of Science and professor of computer science at the University of British Columbia points out that in the late 1970s, women comprised 30 to 40 percent of enrollment in computing sciences. Today female enrollment is between 15 and 20 percent (Priest 2001). In British Columbia, women comprise 11.7 percent of the undergraduate enrollment in computer science and 49.7 percent in geography (Schaefer 2000). These numbers point clearly to a decrease in potential for female participation in the digital realm.

There are any number of explanations for this decrease, yet no single cause. Within the discipline of geography in Canada, this under-representation is slightly shifting as more women begin to enroll in GIS. Simon Fraser University offers a Spatial Information Science (SIS) certificate program at the undergraduate level, and women currently constitute 40 percent of enrollment. It is my contention that this balance could shift at the graduate level and faculty levels if GIS changes, and if women start viewing science and their role in it differently. …

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