Credibility and the use of geospatial media in activism and advocacy


  • Lane DeNicola

    1. Faculty Fellow in the Humanities, Dept. of Geography and Program in Science, Technology & Society, 301 Tolley Humanities Building, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY 13244
    Search for more papers by this author
    • This work was supported in part by a grant from the Andrew J. Mellon Foundation provided by the Humanities Corridor of Central New York. It was presented in an earlier form at the Interface of the Humanities with Science & Technology Workshop held October 26–27, 2007 at Syracuse University.


Earth remote sensing (ERS)—the science and craft of interpreting images of the terrestrial surface collected at high altitude by aircraft or satellite—is unquestionably a premier source of current knowledge about our environment, and offers vast possibilities for improving environmental stewardship, whether by state agencies, corporations, or civil society. However, it has also been critiqued as a tool that can too easily shape knowledge according to dominant interests, bringing into question recent experimentation with ERS by advocacy groups and activists. This essay considers the claim that ERS is in danger of suffering from an “imagery credibility paradox,” allegedly a result of the recent influx of inexperienced “imagery activists” whose unorthodox priorities threaten to destabilize public confidence in ERS imagery as a source of knowledge. I explore the rhetorical dichotomization of the ERS community into “traditional” and “new” users, reframing the imagery credibility paradox as an attempt 1) to democratize a previously exclusive technology, and 2) to renegotiate the terms of credibility and expert authority. In this effort I support an argument for “imagery activists” as vital contributors to a more appropriate use of “geospatial media” and to a needed discussion on the ethical use of such media.