Critical Issues in Participatory GIS: Deconstructions, Reconstructions, and New Research Directions


Address for correspondence: Sarah Elwood, Department of Geography, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA. E-mail:


In the mid-1990s, several critical texts raised concerns about the social, political, and epistemological implications of GIS. Subsequent responses to these critiques have fundamentally altered the technological, political, and intellectual practices of GIScience. Participatory GIS, for instance, has intervened in multiple ways to try to ameliorate uneven access to GIS and digital spatial data and diversify the forms of spatial knowledge and spatial logic that may be incorporated in a GIS. While directly addressing core elements of the ‘GIS & Society’ critique, these reconstructions of a critical GIScience introduce their own ambiguities with respect to access, equity, digital representation of spatial knowledge, and epistemologies of new GIS research practices. In this paper, I examine some of the new and persistent ambiguities of participatory GIS that bear inclusion in future critical GIScience research.