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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis dissertation provides a grounded examination of an evolving geographic information systems (GIS) discourse to examine how it affects decision-making processes in the context of resource management and urban planning issues, and whether the use of GIS is empowering or marginalizing for social groups involved in these processes. By using Foucault's genealogical and critical approaches to study discourse, GIS discourse is reconstructed. From the genealogy approach four discontinuities, the role of positivism, the social construction of GIS technology, the role of GIS manufacturers and vendors, and the institutionalization of GIS are examined to show how they have shaped the discourse. The critical approach uncovers how GIS discourse limits participation in decision-making processes through three systems of exclusions: prohibition, rejection and will to truth. These systems of exclusion legitimate particular knowledge, values and views that can be readily incorporated into a GIS. Typically it is the knowledge, values and views held by more dominant social groups that are privileged by GIS discourse, since they can be expressed in terms that are readily digitizable with no distortion in meaning. Hence, decisions based on the use of GIS tend to empower these groups because outcomes are in line with their interests. Using the Riparian Habitat Protection Ordinance and the Comprehensive Plan from Pima County, Arizona as case studies, this dissertation shows that GIS discourse systematically marginalizes weaker social groups. GIS discourse establishes the boundaries of the debates by shaping the way in which these issues were framed, dictating the data to use and the criteria to evaluate the data, and legitimating the participation of certain social groups. In both case studies social groups who argued from outside these boundaries were marginalized. An examination of power relations among actors reveals which actors can exercise power through decision-making, and that GIS discourse attempts to conceal moments when conscious decisions are made regarding the use of GIS. These moments are opportunities for contestations to occur, but since GIS discourse attempts to hide them, the use of GIS appears to be natural. GIS discourse is also articulated and reinforced through its intersection with local political and economic discourses.
Degree ProgramGraduate College
Geography and Regional Development