Annals of GIS (2012) 18(4).
How GIS Can Help Address the Uncertain Geographic
Context Problem in Social Science Research?
The uncertain geographic context problem (UGCoP), first articulated by Kwan (2012),
refers to the problem that findings about the effects of area-based contextual variables
on individual behaviors or outcomes may be affected by how contextual units (e.g.,
neighborhoods) are geographically delineated and the extent to which these areal units
deviate from the true geographic context. It is a significant methodological problem
because it means that analytical results can differ for different delineations of
contextual units even if everything else is the same. Drawing upon Kwan (2012) and
recent social science studies (especially environmental health and neighborhood effects
research), this article further elaborates on the nature of the UGCoP and explores how
recent advances in GIS and geospatial technologies can help address the problem. It
discusses possible means for mitigating the UGCoP, especially with regard to the
collection of detailed individual space-time data with GPS, construction of individual
activity spaces, and the use of qualitative and web-based GIS to capture people's activity
locations and everyday experiences. It also discusses the challenges for future research
that seeks to address the UGCoP.
geographic context, UGCoP, environmental health, neighborhood effects, the uncertain geographic context problem.
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