Monday, October 10, 2011

Spatial Citizenship: Why not?

Left image:The River Murray from the air, near Murray Bridge in South Australia.
Right image:Sydney Harbour on a busy and sunny Friday afternoon.

Related sites to the Spatialworlds project
Spatialworlds website
21st Century Geography Google Group
Australian Geography Teachers' Association website
'Towards a National Geography Curriculum' project website
Geography Teachers' Association of South Australia website
Email contact

Where am I??
Sydney: S: 34º 0' E: 151º 0'

The spatial capacity: An ignored competency / essential learning / capability

"Location-based services are becoming pervasive. Spatial awareness and geo-understanding are core competences which need to be developed to enable citizens to contribute meaningfully to these shared digital environments. Critical evaluation of the information available is also essential where maps and other visualisations frequently tell lies at their worst and half-truths at their best." Donert 2009

There are more than just vocational and learning objectives reasons for the use of spatial technology and applications in schools.

It can argued, the development of spatial literacy/thinking and the associated use of spatial technology is equally about the development of the citizenship capacity of young people.

Increasingly, there is research and commentary on the importance of “the spatial” when we look at the suite of citizenship skills required to develop a functional, positive and empowered citizen in a democracy. I know it is yet another term but the area of spatial citizenship and the expression itself is beginning to gain currency in the geography community. Many see the concept as serving a useful purpose in promoting the importance of spatial thinking and spatial technologies in the curriculum. However the expression spatial citizenship is not about using spatial skills and technology to map politics as discussed in a previous Spatialworlds posting, it is about building citizenship capacity via an awareness, use and application of spatial thinking and associated technologies – both good and bad. Because of the power of spatial thinking and pervasiveness of spatial technology in our society in the 21st Century it is in beholden upon education to ensure that young people are fully aware of and skilled in the way of spatial thinking and the use of technology which can impact greatly upon them as citizens.

Spatial citizenship capacity has become especially acute due to the georevolution over the past few decades , as evidenced in these two quotes:

“The capacity of spatial systems means that over 80% of all data is now attached to place.”

“ … over the past 15 to 20 years there has been a massive revolution happening in both the private and public sector, as geography has proved to be a fundamental part of the processes on which these commercial and non-commercial organisations rely. Roy Laming ESRI (UK) CEO

Although spatial citizenship is a new expression, what we are talking about is hardly new when we consider the importance and application of geography for young people (as citizens now, not what some talk about suspended citizenship for young people). The following quotes from the UK highlight the shifting focus for geography to be seen as an important subject for citizenship and community cohesion in 21st Century societies.

“We live in a constantly changing and interacting world – geography is the study of how political, economic, social and environmental processes shape, differentiate and change places and regions.” Dr Rita Gardner.

"Geography, in the way it brings together the human and the natural – physical, the social and the environmental, people and place, equips a 21st geography curriculum with the power of integrative thinking that will allow them to navigate the ethical dilemmas our era of supercomplexity presents.”
Curriculum Development: Producing Geographers for the 21st Century B Whalley 2011, Journal of Geography in Higher Education

The role of geography as a potential community cohesion builder is further supported by the site which states that:

Increasingly Europe is seeing spatial knowledge, awareness ands skills as a core dimension of citizenship – learning to live positively with difference and diversity.”

Through their Living Geography” initiative the GA in the UK continues to promote the idea of geography promoting community cohesions.

“… the area of COMMUNITY COHESION: something which has been in the news recently, and an area which geography should make a major contribution towards.”

Another angle on the reasons for spatial thinking and spatial technology use in our schools is the desire to ensue that citizens are fully aware of the power and potential of the technology to do good and bad in our society. To be aware of a technology is to be armed against its mis-use and/or mis-representation of what the data or visualizations are showing. Just like statistics spatial representations and analysis are only as objective and fair as the person carrying out the application. There needs to be a degree of critical analysis by citizens to ensure that it is not abused or used for the wrong purposes. Potential “Big Brother” or “Nanny State” technologies such as spatial technology must be accountable by citizens to be used for the “common good”.

The importance of spatial citizenship (maybe not as that expression) is certainly recognized in the Australian Curriculum: Geography when we quote one of the 5 aims of the Australian Curriculum: Geography
* as informed, responsible and active citizens who can contribute to the development of a sustainable and socially just world.
ACARA Australian Curriculum: Geography draft scope and sequence

If geographers in Australia believe in this aim as a fundamental reason why we are teaching geography, then we should begin to talk about spatial citizenship, and use it as an expression, as core rationale of what, how and why we want students to develop their spatial thinking and capacity related to the world they live in now (not just the world they will enter at 18 as an Australian citizen).

The following 2010 definition of spatial citizenship by Gryl, Jekel and Donert is a good stating point in our attempt to clarify the concept. We may need to add such a definition to the geography glossary in the future as we continue to promote the idea of spatial citizenship as a major driver for the inclusion of geography and the use of spatial technology in the curriculum.

“A spatial citizen should be able to interpret and critically reflect on spatial representations, communicate with the aid of maps and other spatial representations and … express location-specific opinions using spatial technologies and/or geo-media.”

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