Features, Objects, and other Things: Ontological Distinctions in the Geographic Domain

In Daniel Montello (ed.), Spatial Information Theory: Foundations of Geographic Information Science. New York: Springer. pp. 489-502 (2001)
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Abstract
Two hundred and sixty-three subjects each gave examples for one of five geographic categories: geographic features, geographic objects, geographic concepts, something geographic, and something that could be portrayed on a map. The frequencies of various responses were significantly different, indicating that the basic ontological terms feature, object, etc., are not interchangeable but carry different meanings when combined with adjectives indicating geographic or mappable. For all of the test phrases involving geographic, responses were predominantly natural features such as mountain, river, lake, ocean, hill. Artificial geographic features such as town and city were listed hardly at all for geographic categories, an outcome that contrasts sharply with the disciplinary self-understanding of academic geography. However, geographic artifacts and fiat objects, such as roads, cities, boundaries, countries, and states, were frequently listed by the subjects responding to the phrase something that could be portrayed on a map. In this paper, we present the results of these experiments in visual form, and provide interpretations and implications for further research.
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