University of Calgary

Ryan Burns

  • Assistant Professor

Prospective students

Before contacting me, please see my supervisor profile here:

Research areas

I am a geographer whose work intersects GIScience and human geography. In my research I work to understand the social, political, and urban transformations of GIS, Big Data, web mapping, software, and related digital spatial phenomena. Within this arena I have explored 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.

Underlying these efforts is an interest in the ways people, places, and knowledge come to be encoded as data. In 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 why some places and phenomena are more thoroughly represented in open data platforms, and the implications of open data platforms on community organizations' strategies in city politics. 

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.


Book Chapters/Contributions - Peer Reviewed

Journal Article

Curriculum Vitae


Powered by UNITIS. More features.