Qualitative GIS:
combining theory and method
Stephen Burgess and Scott Orford
What is QGIS?
New and developing approach to spatial research (early 2000s →)
Response to critiques of GIS
– Power relations; cost; supportive of value-free objectivity; Pickles’ Ground
– Different to PPGIS
Critical cartography as response to post-modern claims to knowledge (text
discourse, institutionalisation of knowledge etc)
Post-colonialism: knowledge claims and territory claims - who maps to claim it and
how; tensions (e.g. indigenous v coloniser land use).
North American focus for development but interest spreading elsewhere
– Development of international methodological and empirical agenda?
What is QGIS?
QGIS is arguably a misnomer
Is a mixed-method approach (care not to confuse techniques with the method)
Approach (not merely a collection of techniques)
Approach is Mixed method “integrating multiple forms of knowledge”
(Elwood & Cope, 2009)
Repositioning of GIS away from a solely positivistic framework to employ multiple epistemologies
Integration of quantitative (spatial) v qualitative (platial) data
Cartesian v Non-Cartesian
Mixed methods and epistemological boundaries
Mapping the nonmeasurable and dynamic (processes, flows, time and history)
Combining data – visualization is key
In other words
GIS / Mapping as a representational practice not just a technology (critical cartography)
How represents, constitutes and communicates spatial knowledges
Parallels with QGIS: learning
from elsewhere
(1) Critiquing cartography
(2) Mapping qualitative data
(3) Re-presenting space and place
Critiquing cartography
– Surrealist map of the world
– South-at-the top
Surrealist map of the world,
Parallels with QGIS: learning
from elsewhere
Mapping qualitative data
CAQDAS links with Google Earth (Graham Hughes)
The Island (Walter)
Greenwich emotion map
Salem Witch Trials
Re-presenting space and place
– Neo-geography and VGI
– Twitter (virtual space)
• Guardian Twitter World Cup – non cartographic representation of social
• UCL Twitter Maps – cartographic representation of social networking
QGIS: Examples from Wales
• QGIS, WISERD, data integration and mixed-methods
• Projects that might help understand different mobilities in
urban and rural South Wales
– Use of mental maps, conversation and Google Earth to
understand mobilities in South Wales Valleys town
(previous study)
– GPS tracks to plot walkabout interviews (KLiC)
– GPS tracks to plot urban patrols (KLiC)
• These highlight different affordances given to different
methods used in different contexts
Walking tours – interview practice
Cars and
Urban Patrol data – spatial practice
Moving forward
Moving forward
• Moving forward
– Beware of technology for its own sake
– Further theoretical development
• WISERD data from KLiC Teams
Urban Patrol data – spatial
Qualitative GIS: exploring theory and method
The past few years have witnessed a cross-disciplinary growth of interest
in the integration of qualitative and quantitative spatial data, particularly
within a GIS environment. These embryonic interests may often bear
different names, but their objectives are, ultimately, similar. In our own
work, we refer to this as Qualitative GIS (QGIS). We suggest that there is
a need to clarify what is meant by QGIS in order to forward an
international agenda of method and study. In this paper, we will outline
current work being undertaken within Qualitative GIS. We will discuss
theoretical and methodological issues and begin to address substantive
questions including the what, whys and hows of QGIS. By addressing
these, we will have a better idea of what QGIS might look like.

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