PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2015, Vol. 34 ›› Issue (4): 410-417.doi: 10.11820/dlkxjz.2015.04.002

Special Issue: 地理大数据

• Special Column: Big Data and Smart City • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Opportunities and limitations of big data applications to human and economic geography: the state of the art

Zhenshan YANG1*(), Ying LONG2, DOUAY Nicolas3   

  1. 1. Key Lab of Regional Sustainable Development and Modelling, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
    2. Beijing Institute of City Planning, Beijing 100045, China
    3. Université Paris Diderot, Paris 75205, France
  • Online:2015-04-10 Published:2015-04-10


The technology of "big data" has profoundly changed our life and society, and advanced scientific research. By taking social and human activities as main data source, this technology is of great potential of applications in human and economic geography. Drawing on recent progress in research, this article analyzes the new applications of big data to the research of urban hotspots, functional areas and boundaries, transportation and consumption behaviors and social geography. Based on these analyses, this article articulates the roles of big data in enriching data sources, adding new research themes, bringing new research paradigms, and stimulating the research of coupling to human-spatial research in human and economic geography. However, the technology of "big data" still needs improved, especially the "bias" issue in collection and the attributes of data. It also needs appropriately positioned in the application in human and economic geography because big data cannot replace the data that are collected from field work, or be applied without proper theoretical grounding and hypothesis, and replace the independent thinking of researchers and decision processes. These factors limit the application of big data, which requires more efforts on big data infrastructure development as well as exploration of human and economic geography. Acknowledging the opportunities and roles of big data application, human and economic geographers should emphasize the following to advance the research of this filed: exploring new data sources and paying closer attention to database construction inhuman and economic geography, establishing a research paradigm towards big data applications, facilitating cross-disciplinary and cross-domain research to strengthen the study of human-nature relations, and emphasizing the research towards human behaviors and demands.

Key words: big data, human and economic geography, research paradigms