Examining uneven power relations in community-engaged GIS

Authors: Emily Barrett*, Vanderbilt University
Topics: Geographic Information Science and Systems, Urban Geography
Keywords: community-engaged research, gentrification, GIS, social justice
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 32
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


As local governments increasingly turn to digital technologies and data-driven solutions to help address some of their most acute challenges, from entrenched poverty to affordable housing, they often call on community-engaged researchers as collaborators, analysts and experts. Whilst these partnerships are celebrated under the emancipatory potential of data, or "doing good" with data, it is crucial that community-engaged researchers understand how digital technologies and their associated data practices contribute to and are critically deployed within unequal relations of power. In this paper, I explore one effort to critically apply geospatial technologies to intervene in discussions of gentrification and affordable housing in Lexington, KY. I examine the ways in which the positionalities of community-engaged researchers are entangled into the power dynamics of the community, challenging conceptualizations of the role of the academic researcher and the ability to leverage GIS for social justice. Ultimately, I argue that geospatial technologies and their data outputs are saturated with the politics and power dynamics from which they are embedded and mobilized within. Better understanding how to navigate these power relations in community-engaged research is vital if community members are to take full advantage of the increasing capacities that geospatial technologies offer.

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