University of Calgary

Ryan Burns

  • Assistant Professor

Prospective students

Before contacting me, please see my supervisor profile here:

Research areas

I am a geographer working at the intersections of GIScience and human geography. Much of my research questions how people, places, and knowledge come to be encoded as data, and then analyzed and acted upon through other digital objects and practices. 

I have three ongoing research projects. In the first I explore digital humanitarianism, an emerging set of technologies and digital labor relations that allow large numbers of geographically-dispersed lay people to contribute to post-disaster urban redevelopment and humanitarian crisis management. I have illuminated the spatialities, modalities, and socio-political inequalities that emerge from digital humanitarianism, as well as the mutual-imbrication of digital humantarianism and broader political-economic reforms.

In other more nascent research I have been looking at the ways these processes manifest in urban open data platforms and 'smart cities' agenda. I am drawn to the politics underwriting the reasons places and phenomena are represented the way they are in open data platforms, and the implications of open data platforms on community organizations' strategies in city politics. For this, with Mellon Foundation and SSHRC sub-grants, I have started the YYC Data Collective, a platform for community associations and non-profits to share their data -- a complement to Open Calgary. I also helped launch Smart Cities Partnership YYC, a collaboration with the City of Calgary on their smart city strategy; and an Urban Alliance project reviewing municipal data sharing agreements across North America.

Third, with Blake Hawkins (UBC), I am looking at the digital and data practices of dating and sex-seeking app users. We're interested in the ways people engage information interfaces to construct and perform digital sexualities and intimacy. 

These activities build upon my prior work in geovisualization and web mapping. In research conducted 2008-2009, I used the high-dimensional visualization technique the Self-organizing Map (SOM) to explore people’s (digitally) written descriptions of San Diego neighborhoods. The SOM is a quantitative technique useful for teasing out themes and structures from large volumes of unstructured semantic data. I used this technique to arrange neighborhoods on a map based on similarities in people’s descriptions of them, allowing me to identify similarities between neighborhoods’ attributes, as condensed from a very large dataset. In a more recent project on youth mapping co-PI'd by Sarah Elwood and Katharyne Mitchell, I built an interactive web mapping interface for use in Seattle after-school programs. Youth mapped their everyday geographies and the spatial histories of racial and ethnic minorities in Seattle, illustrating the ways in which geoweb technologies may be used to impact youth civic engagement.

I have served the discipline and my universities in numerous capacities. I am currently on the International Advisory Board for the journal ACME, and in December 2018 I will be the Book Review Editor for The Canadian Geographer. I am the chairperson for the Communications Collective of the AAG's Socialist and Critical Geography speccialty group, a role I have had (under different names, and with one large gap) since 2008. I was the Secretary and Treasurer for the AAG's GISS specialty group, after serving as the same group's student representative. For its last two iterations ('19 and '17), I have served on the program committee for the conference Spatial Knowledge and Information. I have been on the steering committees for UCalgary's Masters in GIScience Renewal Committee and Temple University's Professional Masters in GIS, and am currently on the Program Advisory Board for UCalgary's Arts & Sciences Honours Academy. 


Book Chapters/Contributions - Peer Reviewed


Journal Article

Technical Papers / Research Reports

Additional research activities

  • 2018. Technology, Law, and Society Summer Institute. University of California – Irvine.
  • 2018. Globalization and Digitization — (New) Geoinformation Relationships in the World. Forum for the Study of the Global Condition: Jena, Germany. Invited as participant and keynote speaker in 4-day workshop.
  • 2017. Ethical Issues of Digital Humanitarianism. Invited as participant and keynote speaker for one-day workshop. Montreal, QC.
  • 2016-2017. Ethics of Location-Based Technologies in Crisis Workshop. American Association for the Advancement of Science. Washington, DC. Invited as participant for three workshops.
  • 2016. Summer Institute in Economic Geography. University of Kentucky, Lexington.
  • 2015. Fellow, Data Science for Social Good Fellowship. eScience Institute, University of Washington.
  • 2014. "Revisiting Critical GIS". Friday Harbor Laboratories, Friday Harbor, WA.
  • 2013. Oxford Internet Institute Summer Doctoral Programme. i-School, University of Toronto, Canada
  • 2011. Bergen Summer Research School. University of Bergen, Norway

Curriculum Vitae


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