Combining GIS with Qualitative Methods in Urban Research

Aliaksandra Baravikova

  • Aliaksandra Baravikova
Keywords: Qualitative GIS (QGIS), participatory GIS (PGIS), urban studies, mapping, geographical knowledge.


The rise of Big Data, much of which contains spatial information, such as geotagged social media or GPS-tracked movements has provoked discussions about the salience of geospatial knowledge for how we understand and govern cities. This paper argues that attempts to make sense of “data avalanche” could benefit from taking a closer look at the critical arguments and practices of qualitative GIS research. Qualitative GIS (QGIS) emerged at the beginning of 2000s as a way to problematize the dominance of quantitative methods in geography and the power-laden nature of new technologies. Using the examples of QGIS application in urban studies literature, this paper discusses methodological and theoretical implications of different strategies to gather and analyze data (from simple geocoding to building customized applications). It explores how QGIS may give qualitative data a spatial dimension, open up opportunities for public participation and make the invisible visible, allowing to discover new patterns and therefore serving as a heuristic tool for research. This paper contributes to the ongoing discussion about the transformations of geographical knowledge by putting current debates into historical context. Learning from previous QGIS practices may also serve as a source of inspiration for future studies, allowing to shed new light upon relatively well-researched topics such as gender and the city, social exclusion, mobility or urban memories.


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