Geo-ethics Symposium

Monday 14 March 2016
University of Twente

ITC is organising a symposium on Geo-ethics at the University Twente 14 March 2016, together with the Faculty Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences (BMS) of our university.

Geo-ethics has tradition in geo-information science. In 1991, Brian Harley was in the vanguard of scholars challenging mapmakers to develop an agenda for ethical mapping. Harley foregrounded three concepts—the agency, the interests and the discourse of the mapmaker. Maps are powerful when the agency and interests of the mapmaker escape notice. Only then the world brought into being by the map can be taken for the world. Ever since, geospatial scientists who followed Harley’s call have viewed maps as authoritative resources that work as instruments in social systems, and as such do not only represent the world, but through their use in society they reinforce the power of the mapmaker.

Nowadays, in the age of big data, a commitment to geo-ethics has new urgency. Geo-located big data is data about the territory, things, people and their relations. Big data are sourced from mobile phones, surveillance cameras, drones, satellites, street views, corporate and government databases. Ephemera from our everyday life—our location and movement, our tweets, emails, photos and videos, purchases, our every click, misspelled word, and page view—are routinely plucked and ‘datafied’. In the smart cities of the North, ‘datafication’ captures more and more aspects of urban life at ever finer resolutions and creates tensions between the benefits of data analytics and maintaining trust in government, especially when much of the data are processed by corporations. In the global South, ‘datafication’ increases the agency of big business, but also of NGOs, and creates significant power shifts in international development and environmental governance. The agency of big business to collect, analyze and monetize global data flows is growing. So is the agency of the state to predict and control citizens’ behavior. The debate between techno-optimists and techno-pessimists is fierce. Techno-optimists emphasize the discovery of future patterns in the behavior of people to reduce uncertainty and increase security. Techno-pessimists highlight the loss of individual and group privacy, the loss in autonomy and freedom of expression and the increase in mass surveillance.

The geo-ethics symposium will foreground the malleability of technology and our agency as scientists-cum-citizens in ethically shaping our digital future in the North and the global South. We will explore cutting-edge perspectives from philosophy of technology, computer science and urban & environmental governance by invited experts, both external and in-house. The symposium is a collaboration between the Faculty Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC) and the Faculty Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences (BMS) of University of Twente. Staff and students with an interest for ethics and geo-technology can join and share their insights with the speakers.

For more information contact Yola Georgiadou ( or Alfred Stein (



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