Moments of Closure in the Knowledge Politics of Digital Humanitarianism

Geoforum 53 (2014) 51-62

12 Pages Posted: 9 Mar 2014

See all articles by Ryan Burns

Ryan Burns

University of Washington - Department of Geography

Date Written: January 29, 2014


Geographers interested in the social and political implications of the geoweb have recently turned their attention to its attendant "knowledge politics". Such work looks at the processes and discrete moments in development that led to certain knowledges being represented and other knowledges remaining invisible. In this paper I build on these conversations by exploring the knowledge politics of digital humanitarianism. Digital humanitarianism, a technological corollary to the geoweb, is the set of social and institutional networks, technologies, and practices that enable large numbers of remote and on-theground individuals to collaborate on humanitarian projects. Specifically, in this paper I offer 4 "moments of closure" when knowledge politics have been negotiated, enacted, and made durable in digital humanitarianism. These moments of closure constellate around the themes of inclusion, categorization, accuracy, and visibility. I then consider the implications of these moments for the kinds of epistemologies digital humanitarianism espouses, and how knowledges come to be represented. I argue that these knowledge politics - the struggles for legitimacy and means of representation - are fluid and contested, yet become more stable when implemented through technology. Through these processes digital humanitarianism, and by extension the geoweb, embodies the social relations that first produced the debates around knowledge representation.

Keywords: Geoweb, knowledge politics, digital humanitarianism, critical technology studies, software studies

Suggested Citation

Burns, Ryan, Moments of Closure in the Knowledge Politics of Digital Humanitarianism (January 29, 2014). Geoforum 53 (2014) 51-62. Available at SSRN:

Ryan Burns (Contact Author)

University of Washington - Department of Geography ( email )

Seattle, WA
United States

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