Putting data science in SHAPE: A geographical perspective

Here’s my abstract and my slides for the BRIDGES Conference 2022 about gender differences across disciplines:

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Putting data science in SHAPE: A geographical perspective

Andrea Ballatore, Dept of Digital Humanities, King’s College London

Teaching data science and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to SHAPE students (i.e. Social sciences, Humanities, and the Arts for People and the Economy) without a technical background presents unique and exciting challenges. In this paper, I will adopt a geographical perspective to discuss strategies to make these subjects more accessible and engaging to students from the Global South, and particularly to BAME and Black students in the UK. I will examine three interrelated propositions.

(i) Data science is rooted in scientific knowledge and technologies from the Global North, predominantly developed by White (or, more recently, Asian-American) scientists and technologists. It is necessary to discuss this Northern viewpoint explicitly while emphasising Global South perspectives and applications.

(ii) An introduction to data science requires not only programming but also statistics, which is arguably even more important to formulate meaningful questions. Human geography provides a rich and fascinating field that provides many types of quantitative data that can be used as case studies, for example comparing countries or regions within countries in terms of Human Development. This provides opportunities to critically discuss the biases and limitations of social data.

(iii) Some of the “decolonising the curriculum” rhetoric has a clear anti-STEM orientation that I find counterproductive when the objective is precisely to foster enthusiasm and interest in SHAPE students that are sensitive to social justice. How can we decolonise (geographic) data science without rejecting it as a positivistic or even imperialistic enterprise?


Birhane, A., & Guest, O. (2020). Towards decolonising computational sciences. arXiv preprint arXiv:2009.14258.

Zembylas, M., Bozalek, V., & Motala, S. (2021). A pedagogy of hauntology: Decolonising the curriculum with GIS 1. In Higher Education Hauntologies (pp. 11-28). Routledge.