Geographic Information Technologies for cultural research: cultural mapping and the prospects of colliding epistemologies

By Chris Gibson; Chris Brennan-Horley; Andrew Warren, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, New South Wales in Cultural Trends, Vol. 19, No. 4, December 2010. Online publication date: 08 November 2010

This article discusses potential applications of Geographic Information Technologies in cultural research - amidst concern that confusion surrounds what these technologies are, and how they might be used. We discuss the adoption of Geographic Information

Technologies in our own cultural research projects, motivated by empirical shortcomings with existing creative industries and cultural planning research methods, coupled with a desire to more fully explore the geography of cultural life within Australian cities.

Geographic Information Technologies can comprise a range of technologies (proprietary GIS software systems, GPS, web mapping) that seek to accumulate geographical information for analysis within computer database systems.

In our projects, Geographic Information Technologies enabled spatially sensitive questions about creative activity, affective links to city environments and cultural vitality (asked in interviews and focus groups) to be linked to central map databases. "Collisions of epistemologies" (Brown & Knopp, 2008) were made possible, dissolving boundaries between qualitative and quantitative methods, and connecting our philosophical commitment to everyday, vernacular forms of culture to matters of cultural planning. Results showed a refreshing amount of creative activity occurring beyond visible "hubs", in suburbs and the vernacular spaces of everyday life.

Moreover, cultural life - and creative activities more specifically - was layered, localized and multifaceted within cities, in ways that preclude singular generalizations. Geographic Information Technologies and maps - with their capacities to capture complexity and layered phenomena - helped communicate such findings in digestible formats, to a range of community and government audiences.

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