Forum Reply: Still Hoping to Turn That Theoretical Corner
This paper appears in
The Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 87(2): 373, 1997.

Dawn J. Wright, Michael F. Goodchild, and James D. Proctor

Forum Reply:
Still Hoping to Turn That Theoretical Corner

Copyright reserved by Dawn Wright. May be freely distributed electronically in whole or in part, but please keep this notice attached and do not alter the text.

We welcome the commentary by John Pickles on our efforts in Wright et al. (1997) to reflect on and in turn stimulate a wider debate about the epistemological assumptions, or lack thereof, of GIS and the need for theory that transcends the technical. How indeed did it take the field of GIS 30 years to begin asking fundamental questions about its own practice, and its commitments to the intellectual as well as the practical? It is interesting to note that two of the three authors of Wright et al. (1997) received their Ph.D.s in the 1990's. They represent "the new generation" of academics, many of whom are now asking these fundamental questions because no ontology or epistemology of GIS was passed down to them.

Pickles (1997) while applauding our efforts, takes us to task for failing to engage the issues fully. Our intentions, as stated in Wright et al. (1997), were merely to raise questions that we hoped could be answered by those better versed in philosophy and in the social/human side of geography. These are the people who can, as Pickles (1997) states: "engage directly and more substantially the complexities and abstractions of philosophies of science and the theories of knowledge and society associated with them." Yes, we are "the technocists," but we are also willing to step out of our comfort zone and to encourage other technocists to do the same. Liken us if you will to a geographical Michael Jordan: well-trained in a technocist/positivist brand of basketball but willing to have a go at the post-positivist reworkings of baseball. We didn't promise in Wright et al. (1997) to provide all the answers. We did state our intention to provide at least a skeleton or a starting point for discussion. For instance, we must respectfully disagree with Pickles' assertion that Wright et al. (1997) made no references to any works in the philosophy and sociology of science. Our references to works such as Bauer (1992), Cloke et al. (1991), Feibleman (1972), Haines-Young and Petch (1986), Hindess (1977), Johnston (1986), Keat and Urry (1975), Popper (1959), Sayer (1992), Smith (1992), and Sui (1994), were intended to alert the "technocists" to a wider body of helpful literature. In fact, many of those references were mentioned in the original 1993 GIS-L postings, not all of which were "unreflective."

In the end, we applaud Pickles (1997) for giving serious consideration to our musings and for taking the discussion to the next level. It is indeed time for "the hard work of theory" to begin.

Bauer, H. H. 1992. Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press.

Cloke, P., Philo, C., and Sadler, D. 1991. Approaching Human Geography: An Introduction to Contemporary Theoretical Debates. New York: The Guilford Press.

Feibleman, J. K. 1972. Scientific Method. The Hague, Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff.

Haines-Young, R. H., and J. R. Petch 1986. Physical Geography: Its Nature and Methods. London: Paul Chapman Publishing Ltd.

Hindess, B. 1977. Philosophy and Methodology in the Social Sciences. Hassocks, New Jersey: Harvester Press.

Johnston, R. J. 1986. Philosophy and Human Geography: An Introduction to Contemporary Approaches. London: Edward Arnold.

Keat, R., and Urry, J. 1975. Social Theory as Science. London: Routledge & Paul.

Pickles, J. R. 1997. Tool or Science? GIS, Techno-Science, and the Theoretical Turn. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, this issue.

Popper, K. 1959. The Logic of Scientific Discovery. New York: Basic Books.

Sayer, A. 1992. Method in Social Science. London: Hutchinson and Company.

Smith, N. 1992. History and Philosophy of Geography: Real Wars, Theory Wars. Progress in Human Geography 16:257-271.

Sui, D. Z. 1994. GIS and Urban Studies: Positivism, Post-positivism, and Beyond. Urban Geography 15:258-278.

Wright, D. J., Goodchild, M. F., and Proctor, J. D. 1997. Demystifying the Persistent Ambiguity of GIS as "Tool" Versus "Science". Annals of the Association of American Geographers, this issue.

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