Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Although Sheppard refers to Habermas's concept of systemic colonization of the lifeworld several times in his article I found myself thinking more about Weber's "iron cage" nightmare during Sheppard's discussion of the dangers posed by the tendency of GIS analysis to rely on secondary data sources for empirical analysis. As Sheppard correctly observes, "this is a dangerous tendency because of the ways in which data are already laden with the theories, purposes, and social norms of the agencies that collect them." Weber talked about the end of instrumental reasoning and self-serving action being the self reduced to existence in an iron cage of rationality, devoid of both meaning and freedom. This is the same problem that Adorno and Horkheimer were working out in their analysis of mass culture. We are increasingly living in a world consisting nearly seamlessly of representations of the world constructed by unseen forces with the intent to manipulate attiitudes and behavior on a massive scale via various forms of mass media. I think Sheppard is right to be worried that GIS technologies, for all of their technological sophistication, still conform to the cardinal rule of data analysis: garbage in, garbage out.