Place-based GIS and place-based objects

Like any computer software and method GIS is limited by the type and amount of data that are available. GIS often contains dozens of layers of data. Nevertheless, the ever increasing volume of data frequently masks the fact that qualitative data, which has great relevance in the human beings behind the digital numbers, is missing. Several Qualitative GIS approaches – predominantly in North America - point out how GIS could equally capable of storing and representing both qualitative and quantitative data. Qualitative GIS maybe an important component when trying to understand what a location means to humans. Place is an increasingly important notion in geographic information science (GIScience) – although the place-based literature accounts for a tiny fraction of the overall GIS literature. Places are understood as locations that are made meaningful by people who become attached to them. In general, it is difficult to analyse such qualitative data on a computer. 

This PhD project shall go beyond a notion of GIS as a managing and analysing system that provides spatial facts. It shall seek ways to explore information on the importance of facts as well as opinions, emotions and feelings surrounding such spatial facts. The overall objective of the PhD project is to develop a methodological framework and prototypical solutions for a place-based GIS and for the spatial delineation of place. It should focus on the integration of GIS data, remote sensing data, and personal interviews, as well as spatial analysis and mapping techniques using innovative methods from different fields such as environmental psychology, geography, and computer science. The methodological lynchpin for this to happen shall be object-based image analysis (OBIA). To explore this issue in detail, qualitative information will be obtained from the public, and this will be represented in the GIS quantitatively, so that it can be analysed as part of the planning process, and qualitatively so that can be used to further support decision-making. 

Research questions may include:

  • Is the existence of objects always dependent on the cognitive activity of demarcating their boundaries – or can objects representing place be constructed in a transferable and repeatable way, still accommodating individual instantiations? 
  • When aiming to delineate place in terms of objects it seems to be obvious that such objects are fiat objects but they may relate to bona fide objects such as streets, buildings, or trees. Do they differ from conventional spatial objects also in terms of their outline and, subsequently, in terms of shape and size?
  • Can OBIA concepts accommodate concepts of place through multi-scale discretisation of hierarchical place-space relations and structures? (e.g. level +1: must be embedded in, must be close to, must not be adjacent to, while at level 0 – target level – direct spatial relations may not be directly investigable) 
  • Do individual spatial representations of place (place-based objects) derived through multiscalar modelling coincide with aggregated and individually mapped personal notions of place?