Un savant dans son laboratoire n'est pas
seulement un technicien : c'est aussi un enfant
placé en face des phénomènes naturels
qui l'impressionnent comme un conte de fées.
—Marie Skłodowska-Curie

Geographical information fascinates me. For, despite the supposed simplicity of these concepts, geographical information is of far greater complexity than we can grasp with existing theories. And that is where the attraction lies for me: to strive for formal theories about a subject matter that actually eludes them. The fact that such an endeavour is often unsuccessful and reveals the limits of what is possible is part of the adventure.

Patterns, Laws, and Structures in Geographical Information

Formal regularities in information about geographies are the common denominator of my research. The latter is neither about the geographies themselves nor about formal methods. Rather, I address questions on information about geographies by approaching them from different perspectives until they reveal, at least in part, regularities - patterns, laws, and structures. In doing so, I mainly refer to the following examples:

Information about places (or in short: platial information) is particularly exciting, because places are complex geographical entities at the core of geography. Since they are based on human sensation and action and come into existence through being lived, the ‘human factor’ must be included, and this poses a particular challenge in terms of formal views.

Geographical networks can be of many kinds: exchange of goods on the world market, information in social media, water and steam in the earth's atmosphere, and passed on habitus in lived tradition. Underlying these examples and many further networks is a reference to (geometric or socially constructed) space, which has in many cases a systematic influence on the topology of the network.

A conceptual understanding of data quality forms the basis for better understanding the use of information. The relevance of such an understanding is particularly evident in new forms of data, including crowd-sourced and big data. My interest here is in understanding how the concept of data quality can be described in such way that the resulting definition appears invariant among the various forms, even though the practical use of the data may be very different.

Widening the cartographic paradigm to convey narratives is much more than putting narratives on maps. Rather, it requires a structural adaptation of what constitutes a map, to convey narratives based on human perception and tell stories. How these adaptations can look like is subject of my research.

These sometimes very different examples are linked by shared research questions:

  • How to include human-related, fuzzy, and individual aspects into geographical representations?
  • How to bridge representations of social and physical processes in the geographical domain?
  • How to formulate universal laws for geographical information?
  • Which mathematical and physical concepts can be carried over to geographical information?
  • How to address the complexity inherent to geographical information?

Although these examples of my research may seem very diverse at times, they are united by a common approach – the idea that regularities in geographical information can help us to better understand its nature and utility.

Approach to Research (and Teaching)

In order to effectively push forward with my agenda and also move off the beaten track, I have consciously opted for a reflective approach.

I overcome disciplinary boundaries because my questions are difficult to answer in disciplinary terms. In particular, I refer to Geographical Information Science and Geography; as well as Philosophy, Cartography, Cognitive Science and Psychology, and Social and Cultural Sciences to provide background. Methodologically, I benefit from perspectives in Mathematics, Physics, and Network Science; technically, from perspectives in Computer Science. In many of these subjects, I have collaborated with relevant scientists, published at conferences or in journals, or simply attended courses.

Reflecting about science is not a hurdle but essential for my research beyond disciplinary barriers. The fact that mathematical theorems and qualitative geographical descriptions do not constitute a contradiction but perhaps even shed light on the same behaviour from different perspectives only becomes apparent when (well-founded) disciplinary perspectives are placed in a common context. I thus not only strive to gain good knowledge in the various discipinary domains, but am also particularly committed to engange in the Philsophy of Science context, in order to be able to practically live such interdisciplinarity.

Connecting theoretical considerations with practical applications is a major challange. What works in theory is not necessarily practical; and what works in practice we often cannot predict or explain theoretically. Bringing this spectrum between theory and applicability into focus not only enables us to have an impact on society in the medium term, but, in my experience, leads first and foremost to better insights into conceptual connections and holistic perspectives.

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