Ryan  Burns, phd

I am Assistant Professor at University of Calgary’s Department of Geography, and a member of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health. My research interests are in the social, institutional, and urban transformations of big and open data, smart cities, digital humanitarianism, and related digital spatial phenomena. My research program interrogates the social and institutional struggles around knowledge production emerging in the context of these new spatial-technological developments. At the current moment I’m looking at digital humanitarianism and open data platforms within smart cities.

I am a “public scholar”, which for me means that I actively work to communicate my research results across multiple audiences. That is, I find it equally important to inform policymakers and the general public, as it is to contribute to scholarly conversations. As a public scholar I also hope to improve the ways humanitarian aid is distributed to “the public” in crisis and emergency zones. This is the more applied aspect of my work. Lastly, public scholarship means I consider my pedagogy and my research to be a form of activism. I make this claim because in my research and teaching I open up taken-for-granted ideas/concepts to critique. In other words, I uncover the origins and limitations of technologies and concepts, in order to imagine and foster different, more socially-just, worlds. In this I borrow from Seyla Benhabib, when she says, “The task of the critic is not to juxtapose an ideal, eternal standard to the existent, but through a ‘ruthless critique of the existent’ to reveal that what is, already contains within itself what ‘ought’ to be as a possibility.”

Before coming to UofC, I worked for a year as a visiting professor at the wonderful Temple University, teaching courses in web mapping and GIScience. My Ph.D. is from University of Washington, where I worked with Sarah Elwood, Mark Ellis, Vicky Lawson, and Jin-Kyu Jung. I did my master’s degree research in Geography at San Diego State University (2009), where I worked with André Skupin to visualize people’s perceptions of San Diego neighborhoods. Going even further back, in 2006 I graduated Magna Cum Laude from Eastern Kentucky University with a B.A. in Geography.

But most importantly, I am more than my academic interests. In the past I was a music reviewer for The Sights and Sounds, specializing in ambient, experimental, and minimal electronic music. I run a lot - I have recently mapped out an ambitious journey to the Badwater Ultramarathon within the next 5-7 years, including at least a half dozen 100-mile runs along the way. I have read a good number of the Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels, and I’m still working my way through it. I love backpacking, tea, technology, and photography. I would like to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro before the permanent snow melts. If I could go back in history to meet someone, I wouldn’t go far - probably mid-1920s and meet ee Cummings.

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