Alternative GIS (alt.gis) and the Six Senses of the New Mind: Is alt.gis Transforming GIS into a Liberation Technology?

  • Daniel Z. Sui
Part of the Advances in Geographic Information Science book series (AGIS)


The past twenty years have witnessed the emergence of alternative GIS (alt.gis) practices that are quite different from conventional GIS activities. Intellectually tied to the critical cartography pioneered by J.B. Harley in the late 1980s and early 1990s, alt.gis has evolved from early discussions on GIS & Society, critical GIS, PPGIS, feminist GIS, map stories/geonarratives, deep maps to qualitative GIS, neogeography, crowdsourcing, volunteered geographic information (VGI), geoweb, post-colonial computing, geogames, geodesign, and spatial humanities. This paper develops a preliminary framework to loosely knit together the diverse intellectual threads for Alt.gis. This paper argues that Daniel Pink’s framework for the six senses of the whole new mind (design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning) captures the six major Alt.gis practices remarkably well. Mainstream GIS development has been predominantly concentrating on automated cartography/map-making, spatial modeling, geo-computation, and database development with the goal for efficiency, which tend to be closely associated with the left-side/slow thinking capabilities of the human brain. In contrast, Alt.gis focuses more on geo-narratives, qualitative/mixed methods, story-telling, and synthesis with the goal for achieving equity and social justice, which tend to be more closely associated with the right-side/fast thinking capabilities of the human brain. Evidently, Alt.gis has enabled GIS users to transcend what Heidegger called the enframing nature of technology and has led them explore new territories with greater sensitivities. In this sense, Alt.gis has become an enabling technology that continues to empower GIS users in their quest for a better, more equitable and sustainable world.


alt.gis Critical GIS Geodesign Map story Synthesis Geogames 



Critical comments by Francis Harvey and Nadine Schuurman on an earlier draft of this paper are gratefully acknowledgement. The author is solely responsible for any remaining problems.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA

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