University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee :: Department of Geography :: Dr. Rina Ghose :: Research

Research Interests of Dr. Rina Ghose

Research to me is an exciting aspect of academic life. I conduct empirical research through which I aim to challenge or strengthen existing theories in social science. Thus, field research is a strong element of my research work. Generally I conduct case study research, using a mix of qualitative and quantitative (mainly descriptive statistics) research methods.

Owing to parallel specialties in GIScience and urban geography, I have developed research agendas that intertwine my interests and specialties. My goal is to generate a more robust theorization in GIScience and urban geography, and in particular, I aim to contribute to the growing research agenda of Critical GIS.

Research on GIS and Society:

My research in GIS falls within the GIS and Society body of research.  The specific research priorities of GIS and Society research agenda (as highlighted by the University Consortium on Geographic Information Science) include the following:

"In what ways will GIS actually affect and alter the society it is intended to represent and serve? How can various conceptions and representations of space, not based on traditional map formats or geometric views, be embedded within a GIS? Is GIS more appropriate for some cultures than others? Can GIS be developed to reflect complex and ambiguous perceptions of social and physical space? How will GIS affect the relationships among and within government agencies, and between them and the various citizen groups concerned with the environment, property rights, and advocating the needs of local communities? What are the interpersonal implications of GIS? Can GIS provide citizens with an increased ability to monitor and hold government accountable for proposals and actions? Will GIS provide citizens with an understanding of their rights and interests in land? How accessible will spatial data and related GIS analysis tools be to all parts of society? Can GIS be used to increase participation in public decision making?" (http://www.ucgis.org)

My research agenda in GIS addresses all of these questions. A key concern for me is the elitist nature of GIS by virtue of its technological complexity and cost. The hegemonic power relations embedded within GIS, caused by differential access to data and technology, have concerned the scholars in the GIS and Society research arena. Consequently, the issue of making GIS/IT available to marginalized citizens and grassroots community organizations has received considerable attention among GIS professionals and scholars. The establishment of "Empowerment, Marginalization and Public Participation GIS," or PPGIS, as a research focus addressed by NCGIA and UCGIS demonstrates the importance of creating a more democratic practice of GIS. Academic researchers and government officials alike have claimed that such "public participation GIS" (PPGIS) efforts empower community groups, enhancing their control over decisions and problem solving strategies in their communities. A range of initiatives have been undertaken to provide more equitable access to GIS for marginalized groups. Universities, non-profit organizations, local government agencies, and Federal agencies such as HUD have been key players in establishing PPGIS among marginalized resident groups to assist with their planning efforts. Consequently, a new phenomenon in local governance has taken place - the growing use of GIS by the neighborhood organizations of distressed inner city neighborhoods as they engage in neighborhood planning and revitalization efforts.

As a doctoral student in Milwaukee, I participated in University/Community partnerships that created PPGIS initiatives in various inner city neighborhoods of Milwaukee (Myers, Martin and Ghose 1995;Ghose, 2001; Ghose and Huxhold, 2001a; Ghose and Huxhold, 2001b). These initiatives are some of the first efforts in establishing PPGIS in distressed urban areas in America.   Later, as a faculty member, I continued my research on PPGIS prcesses to understand the complexities of spatial knowledge production and application among grassroots organizations, to facilitate their efforts to reshape blighted urban space.

Due to the situated nature of PPGIS, I conducted case-study research in Milwaukee, where many initiatives have been undertaken since the early 1990s to provide equitable access to data and GIS among community organizations of inner-city neighborhoods.  I explored the differential ways in which community organizations pursued spatial knowledge production to enhance their participation in urban governance.  Moreover, I investigated how community organizations integrated their experiential knowledge with public data sets.  I found that the use of spatial data/GIS was simultaneously liberating and constricting for community organizations, leading to uneven outcomes.  While the usage of GIS and spatial data has indeed facilitated planning and service delivery tasks, their practice has also promoted a top-down, rational planning model.  In all of this, I found political processes to play a significant role, in which entrenched hierarchies and power relations significantly affected citizen participation and technology/data sharing among inner-city community organizations.  Furthermore, I investigated the links between local political context and the organizational context (defined by organizational characteristics) as both sets of conditions that affect PPGIS production.  Through the papers I have published on these topics, I created explanatory frameworks that illustrated the hidden complexities in PPGIS and contributed to greater theorization. 

My hire at University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee (UWM) created further opportunities to take my research into new directions.  Thus I explored the citizenship opportunities and constraints embedded within Milwaukee’s Neighborhood Strategic Planning program, a collaborative governance model strongly influenced by the neoliberal political economy. I also investigated how GIS is used within such citizenship practices. In several other papers, I engaged the literature on politics of scale to argue that scalar politics is strongly constructed by various actors as a strategy to control material resources and urban space through citizen participation and GIS use in inner-city neighborhoods.

My future research goals include conducting comparative case studies to understand how the complex proceses of participation and spatial knowledge production unfold among grassroots citizen groups in different social and political contexts. I am also interested in other aspects of Critical GIS research. For instance, I am interested in the various conceptions and representations of space (including those that lie outside of traditional map formats) that can be incorporated into GIS, GIS development in order to address the complexities of social and physical space, GIS as an appropriate technology among various cultures in the non-western world, incorporation of nontraditional representations of space in GIS, incorporation of qualitative data in GIS, issues of privacy and ethics associated with the use of GIS. My future research in GIScience will address some of these questions.

Research on Rural Gentrification: 

My interests in social equity, urban governance and planning led me to study the processes of rural gentrification in the Rocky Mountain area as my dissertation project. Through case study research, I explored the migration of equity-rich, middle-class population from urban areas into the smaller towns of Western Montana, leading to rapid growth and urbanization. I argued that a rural gentrification processes are underway, in which the greater purchasing power of the middle class urbanites enables them to commodify and consume the rural countrysides, leading to profound changes in the social and physical environment. In particular, the escalating real-estate prices over the choicest locations within a poor local economy have shut out the local residents. Conflicts between the newcomers and the locals have ensued over the changing identity of the community and the allocation and increasing privatization of resources. Attempts to curb such impacts through planning and policy measures have had mixed outcomes. Rural gentrification is a largely undocumented phenomenon in the U.S., a decided reversal of the migratory behavior that earlier typified middle-class settlement near the work place in large urban centers. While demographers and population geographers have conducted nation wide macro-analysis of counterurbanization, they have not explored or explained the happenings at the local scale. Similarly, while urban geographers have researched the processes of urban gentrification in the U.S., the equally critical processes of rural gentrification has just begun to be noted. This research thus fills this void.

I am continuing with this research project and am conducting new field work to examine the planning and policy outcomes of rapid growth and gentrification in the three fastest growing small towns of Western Montana that have traditionally been rural and anti-regulatory. These towns are now attempting to enforce growth management policies with little available planning infrastructure. Through detailed empirical data, I aim to illustrate the complex policy outcomes of rural gentrification in the small towns of the U.S.

Research on Technology and Society:

My interests in exploring technology/society interactions were extended into another research project (with co-author Adams) that examined the societal implications of the use of the Internet within the Indian Diaspora. Published in the Progress in Human Geography, our paper explored the processes of identity formation through Internet usage among the Indian communities within the U.S. India’s strength in software development along with the migration of highly educated Indians into the high-tech economy of the U.S. has created unique uses of the Internet, which act as “bridgespace”, a virtual space that supports flows of people, goods, capital, and ideas between South Asia and North America. It enables cultural preservation and the maintenance of ethnic identities among the Indian immigrants as well as acts to support cosmopolitan, intercontinental lifestyles and consumption habits within the Indian Diaspora. This paper emerged out of my own experiences as an Indian immigrant, and I believe this topic has considerable potential. Because of my commitments to the other research projects, I have not yet had substantial time to devote to this topic, but I am intrigued by the ways the Indian communities are using the Internet, and intend to conduct further research in future.