Sense and Sensibility – Reflections on the Epistemology and Ontology of GIS Studies

Ulla Rajala *


This article discusses the relationship between philosophy, archaeological theory and the use of GIS. It is argued that although specific theoretical issues have been discussed, epistemological and ontological questions with regard to the characteristics of data and data processing have not been subjected to rigorous theoretical critique. This is essential to understand the archaeological and non-archaeological qualities of data formats and GIS procedures.

I am not alone in arguing that GIS has to be integrated into every research process in order to answer archaeological questions and that the results have to be interpreted according to a set archaeological theoretical framework. If the archaeological research process follows the principles of Bhaskar's realistic philosophy the critical application of the method is a natural consequence. It is also argued that the combination of realistic and pragmatic frameworks allows, theoretically, all critical use of archaeological GIS applications. Furthermore, the integration of post-structural ideas is shown to be crucial in the explanation of results provided by GIS modelling.

Keywords: GIS, philosophy, epistemology, ontology, integrated studies, realism, pragmatism

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* Ulla Rajala
Department of Archaeology
University of Cambridge
Downing Street

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