Submitted by Adrian OConnor on 27 January 2012 – 8:35pm

Mike Goodchild believes that we should make a distinction between spatial and geospatial believing that if spatial is special then geospatial is even more special! The way he sees it is that geospatial is a subset of something much larger that encompases any spatiotemporal frame, any spatial resoultion, non-Cartesian spaces and metrics and so on.  Spatial represents the big picture while geospatial carves out its own area of interest at on on the earth’s surface  He goes on to suggest that any theory of geospatial (geographic information) should be developed quite separetely from a theory of spatial (spatial information) with the proviso of inheriting all the generality of the latter whilst adding specific cahracteristics from the former. Goodchild calls on Tobler’s First Law (TFL) "everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things" to add weight to the distinction. In his view, TFL is an observation about geographic space and not true of all spaces.  In other words, it was more about the geospatial and not so much about the spatial.

So why all this interest in spatial and geospatial. Is it just a minor issue of semantics or just nit picking or are there bigger issues at stake.  After all does it really matter if we use the words interchangeably? I think it matters a great deal to be perfectly honest.  Much is at stake here.  For example, the NFC publication, Learning to Think Spatially talks about promoting spatial literacy and spatial thinking, the big picture.  Whereas, for some people the message might be all about geospatial litetacy and geospatial thinking, the small picture. Another example is the way that some university departments deliberately use Geospatial Sciences to define their geographic domain of interest. They aren’t interested in exploring the world across all spatial scales from the nano to the galactic which unfortunately excludes many interesting areas of research.

Can we afford to separate the spatial from the geospatial? What if the distinction fails to live up to Goodchild’s expectations? That is, to allow ‘geographic information theory to achieve greater depth and utility’. I personall tkink that one can’t do with out the other.  Relational theorists like Doreen Massey, David Harvey and Nigel Thrift have much to add to the discourse on space and place no matter what universe spatial or geospatial you happen to live in.  Unfortuately, they don’t get cited in the geospatial literature as often as the ought to. A bit of cross fertilisation wouldn’t go astray surely.  I happen to think that TFL is valid across at all spatial scales and they we should pay more attention to the big picture.  Consistent with this view is that Geographers don’t have a monopoly when it comes to space and place.

What do you think?  Spatial or Geospatial: does it really matter?

Adrian