Negotiating GIS and Social Theory in Population Geography



Population researchers are increasingly giving attention to how geographic information systems (GIS)-based analytical techniques can answer questions about the spatial aspects of demographic processes. This broader turn toward spatial demography, however, has occurred concurrently with concerns within population geography about the sub-discipline’s position within human geography as it turns toward critical social theory. These developments create distinct tensions for population geographers who seek to engage with the growing interest in GIS and spatial analysis outside of geography, and remain relevant within an increasingly theoretical human geography. This article evaluates the challenges in incorporating insights from critical social theory into spatial demographic research, with attention to issues such as the social construction of space and scale and the modifiable areal unit problem (MAUP). The article then assesses the potential of qualitative GIS as a methodological resolution to these challenges, and considers the prospects for theoretically informed spatial demographic research in population geography.