Ryan  Burns, phd
October 24, 2010

My research interests for a layperson

EDIT: if any geographers, social theory-heads, or anyone else want a more nuanced theoretically-driven discussion of my work, see my preliminary exam statement under the “dissertation” section of this site.

I realized the other day while speaking with Uliana, and later my mom, that the way I explain my research interests may be hard for non-geographers (or even non-social scientists) to understand. Given my interest in making my work accessible to wide audiences (yeah, I know, this blog gets approximately 0 readers), I thought I’d write a post explaining my work in laymen’s terms.

First, before getting started, I need to make sure we’re on the same page. When I say “research interests” I’m referring to the topics within geography on which I am trying to build. In other words, they are the narrow topics to which I hope to contribute something. Without that “contribution” I can’t graduate. LOL.

The cocktail party answer to the question “what are your research interests?” is that I am interested in how geographic technologies, software, and code, produce urban spaces and mediate our interactions with them. Let me dissect that for you. The main relationship I explore is that between software & space (I’m talking about geographic space, not astronomic space). Space can be anything that connects more than one place: it can be a plot of land, one’s home, the feeling of connection between your Bangladeshi neighbors and their friends in Dhaka, or a watershed. Many spaces are produced, maintained, and experienced through software and computer code, often invisibly. For example, in most cities traffic lights are controlled by software; automobiles contain embedded microchips; consumption patterns (and the resulting micro-economies) are shaped through Yelp and 4square; and GIS has the ability to allow or deny urban development projects through its sophisticated spatial analysis and data visualization capabilities. Some spaces depend entirely on software and code to operate, like grocery store checkout counters, ATMs, and digital communities like Facebook. Modern urban life is thus interwoven with software, code, and geographic technologies in interesting ways.

Humanitarian aid organizations often depend on software and code to

Most research projects need two major parts: a theoretical background (a way of thinking about something) and a methodology (a way of doing something). I have just explained the theoretical approach I will take in my project, so now I will explain the other half of my project.

This first needs some context.

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