1.2 Theory and GIS

Recent Literature

Over the last two years, increasing attention has been drawn to a number of perceived weaknesses in the underlying theoretical basis of many archaeological studies making primary or extensive use of the GIS approach. That archaeological-GIS cannot be regarded as atheoretical was established in a seminal article by Wheatley (Wheatley 1993) and specific failings and limitations within the general application of GIS-based techniques have more recently been the subject of a number of more polemical discussions by researchers such as Gaffney et al. ( 1995a, 1995b; Gaffney and van Leusen 1995)

Theoretical Criticisms of GIS

The principal criticism that can be levelled at the majority of GIS-based studies relates to their often highly implicit theoretical stance. This can be characterised as largely functionalist and deterministic, supported and encouraged by a battery of spatial statistical techniques firmly rooted in a hypothetico-deductive paradigm and committed to a normative and reductionist agenda of optimum site location studies and predictive spatial modelling. Whether this trend reflects a deliberate decision upon the part of the practitioner or a more subtle structuring of the potentialities of analysis by the inherent strengths and weaknesses of the systems themselves is open to debate, and will be returned to frequently during the course of the following discussions. For the moment three specific threads can be identified within the more routine application of GIS that give particular cause for concern. These can be grouped under the rather arbitrary headings Space and time, Pointillism and Determinism, though it should be stressed that there is a considerable degree of conceptual and practical overlap between them.


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Last updated: Tue Sep 5 1996