University of Calgary

Ryan Burns

  • Associate Professor

Editorial positions


Associate Editor, GeoJournal

Editorial Board, Digital Geography & Society

Editorial Board, Frontiers in Big Data

International Advisory Board, ACME: An International Journal of Critical Geographies


Book Review Editor, The Canadian Geographer

Prospective students

I am interested in mentoring graduate students who seek common ground between critical social theory and digital geographies. If you spend mornings reading Doreen Massey and by evenings switch to Mike Goodchild, get in touch. If you get the sense that there's probably more to technology, data, and software than just 0s and 1s, and that they are instead part of what constitutes the social, send me an email. If, instead, you agree with 1995-era Eric Sheppard that the 0s and 1s are fundamental to framing computational thinking, and the word "epistemology" comes up in your defense, please reach out! As much as I enjoy teaching spatial statistics, scripting, models, database design, and spatial analysis, they are not central to my research and thus I would likely not make a good adviser for these sorts of research interests. In other words, I am *not* looking for prospective students who wish to focus on the topics listed above, unless it is from a critical-social-political-theoretic perspective.

If you are interested in working with me, please read through a couple of my publications to see if we might be a good fit. Take a look at some of the communities of which you'd be a part here at UofC, like UC Cities. And check out the work of some of my current grads. After all this, I'd welcome an email introduction. 

Research areas

I am an interdisciplinary-minded scholar and AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow working at the intersections of GIScience, digital human geographies, urban studies, political economy, and Science & Technology Studies. 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, practices, and spatialities. I am currently a Visiting Professor at University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, and have held past visiting positions with UC, Berkeley; Katholische Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt; University of British Columbia; and University of Antwerp. 

I have two 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.

These activities build upon my prior work in spatial data analytics 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 data science 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 another 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 my home discipline and my universities in numerous capacities. I am currently Associate Editor for GeoJournal. I sit on the Editorial Board of Digital Geography & Society and Frontiers in Big Data, and I am on the International Advisory Board for the journal ACME. I'm currently the secretary/treasurer of the Digital Geography Specialty Group of the AAG.

Additional research activities

  • 2022. Knowledge and Digital Technology; 19th symposium of the Klaus Tschira Symposia on Knowledge and Space. Heidelberg University, Heidelberg, Germany. May 3-6, 2022. Personal invitation
  • 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


Book Chapter


Edited Book

Journal Article

Special Issues

Technical Papers / Research Reports

Curriculum Vitae


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