Neogeography and the delusion of democratisation
Within the academic and popular discussion of neogeography, it is routinely argued that the process of producing and using geographical information has been fundamentally democratised. Neogeography, in contrast to ‘established geography’, especially uses the argument that it is for anyone, anywhere, and anytime. Similar arguments have been used to praise the growth in Web GIS since the mid-1990s and seem to be persistent in the conceptualisation of these technologies. However, what is the nature of this democracy, and to what extent do the technologies that are used in neogeography fulfil this democratisation promise? In this contribution the framework offered by Andrew Feenberg in his critical theory of technology, and especially his call for ‘deep democratisation’, is used to provide a critique of these assertions of the nature of neogeography. The analysis shows that, unlike early critical GIS and the literature on participatory GIS, the analysis of neogeography adopted an instrumentalist interpretation of the technology and its applications. This view claims that technology is value free and that there is a separation between means and ends. This type of argument ignores and disguises the values that are integrated inexorably in advanced technologies. Once the values are exposed and discussed, neogeography becomes far less exciting and transformative. It becomes clear that there is a separation between a technological elite and a wider group of uninformed, labouring participants who are not empowered through the use of the technology. There are also multiple obstacles that limit the democratic potential of neogeography. The analysis progresses by considering the hierarchy of hacking, understood here as the ability to alter and change the meaning and use of a specific technological system. This hierarchy further explains the democratisation potentialities and limits of neogeography. Because of the reduced barriers, neogeography does offer some increased level of democratisation but, to fulfil this potential, it requires careful implementation that takes into account social and political aspects. Keywords: democratisation, neogeography, participatory GIS, philosophy of technology, deep democratisation, hacker culture
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