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Volunteered Geographic Information constructions in a contested terrain: A case of OpenStreetMap in China

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Wen Lin



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


The recent explosive growth of user-generated geographic information has drawn significant attention from GIS scholars and human geographers. Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) here refers to a key component of such a phenomenon, comprising both a range of practices of geographic information production and dissemination by volunteers as well as new forms of geospatial data produced and curated through various interactive online platforms and mobile devices such as OpenStreetMap (OSM) and Google Maps. VGI constructions have raised questions on spatial knowledge, power, and context. Through a study that examines social constructions of OSM in China, this paper makes two contributions to the existing literature: providing a political economic account of VGI constructions in China and exploring legalities in VGI research. Informed by research in critical GIS, this paper traces political economic conditions in relation to OSM constructions and examines OSM contributors’ experiences and how these experiences constitute OSM development and usage. Drawing upon law and society research, this paper investigates how OSM mappers encounter the state’s regulatory scheme of online mapping. This legality perspective of spatial data production and usage is a topic rarely explored in VGI studies. With interview data and document analysis, this paper unravels processes of powerful state institutional arrangements to control and invest in VGI simultaneously, entrepreneurs’ interest in developing location-based services using VGI data, and experiences from a tech-savvy group in exploring and making VGI. While individual experiences vary, they show efforts of questioning embedded power relations shaping spatial data production in these continuously evolving, contested technoscientific and social landscapes.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Lin W

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Geoforum

Year: 2018

Volume: 89

Pages: 73-82

Print publication date: 01/02/2018

Online publication date: 03/02/2018

Acceptance date: 08/01/2018

Date deposited: 08/01/2018

ISSN (print): 0016-7185

ISSN (electronic): 1872-9398

Publisher: Elsevier


DOI: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2018.01.005


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