Annals of the Association of American Geographers (2002) 92(4): 645-661.

Feminist Visualization: Re-envisioning GIS
As a Method in Feminist Geographic Research

Mei-Po Kwan

Abstract: Despite considerable progress in recent geographic information systems (GIS) research (especially on public participation GIS), the critical discourse on GIS in the 1990s did not seem to have impacted upon GIS practices in geographic research in significant ways. Development in critical GIS practice has been quite limited to date, and GIS and critical geographies remain two separate, if not overtly antagonistic, worlds. This suggests that critical engagement that seeks to conceive and materialize the critical potential of GIS for geographic research is still sorely needed. In this paper, I explore the possibilities for this kind of critical engagement through revisiting some of the central arguments in the critical discourse from feminist perspectives. I examine whether GIS methods are inherently incompatible with feminist epistemologies through interrogating their connection with positivist scientific practices and visualization technologies. Bearing in mind the limitations of current GIS, I explore several ways in which GIS methods may be used to enrich feminist geographic research. I propose to re-imagine GIS as a method in feminist geography and describe feminist visualization as a possible critical practice in feminist research. I argue that GIS can be re-envisioned and used in feminist geography in ways that are congenial to feminist epistemologies and politics. These alternative practices represent a new kind of critical engagement with GIS that is grounded on the critical agency of the GIS user/researcher.

Key Words: critical GIS, feminism, feminist geography, GIS, visualization

View Full Paper . Return to Kwan's Homepage