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Panel Session 2: Citizens, activism, advocacy

On the Politics of Drone Visualisation

Elspeth Van Veeran, University of Bristol/Pervasive Media Studio

If drones, drone warfare and targeted killing as contemporary and increasingly dominant yet controversial security practices are to be understood and debated, we need to pay attention to the ways in which visual politics plays into these debates, shaping and limiting current understanding of the technology and its power. To date, visual representations of drone-enabled targeted killing remain limited to four categories of visual imaginaries, with corresponding visualities and politics: drone thing, drone vision, dronestream, and droneshadow. Drawing on research from the Wikidronia Project – a project documenting US security practices in the Obama-era - this paper calls instead for a turn to data visualization techniques and strategies in order to capture the complex politics of the object, the scale of the networks mobilized, and the cultures of secrecy in which this practice operates.

 

Pulling and Pushing Data: How Visualisation Can Reach New Audiences

Adam Nieman, Real World Visuals

Democratising data involves bringing it to new audiences, not just making it discoverable. There are two main audiences for data visualisation but the data visualisation community has focused almost exclusively on just one of these. Data visualisations are usually created as a resource for people who bring their own questions to the data, but not all audiences have questions of their own. Sometimes the task is to provoke interest in an audience who don’t yet know that engaging with these data will be of value to them. People make decisions and exercise influence whether they have a quantitative understanding of the issue at hand or not, but they make more rational decisions when they have a ‘feel’ for the numbers.

There is a role for visualisations designed to ‘push' information towards a new audience. Visualisations designed for people with questions of their own – visualisations from which viewers are expected to ‘pull’ information – are not good for new audiences. The first step in engaging new audiences is making what we represent feel real – like something in the actual world (which it is). This by itself provokes questions in the audience, and so removes the most significant barrier to engagement (the lack of questions).

 

Democratising Visualisation's Gaze

Dan Olner, Sheffield Methods Institute

James C Scott's famous thesis in 'Seeing like a State' is that statecraft is a map “designed to summarise precisely those aspects of a complex world that are of immediate interest to the map maker and to ignore the rest” (Scott 1998 p.87). As he notes, power projected through this map - rather than merely describing - can transform the world into an image of the state's liking. The gaze wielded by the largest global tech companies like Google and Uber shares the same DNA – for example, Google Maps filters access to every market it covers, rendering other traders invisible. In this situation, is there any scope for a visualisation ethos than empowers more people to build their own maps of the world, rather than find themselves either passively consuming others' or having their lives transformed by images projected onto them by state institutions? It is easy enough to suggest this as an ideal, but is it in any way practicable, given the technical and education barriers that visualisation creation appears to pose? Organisations like Radstats (set up in 1975) suggest technics should not be an insurmountable barrier. So what would it take to democratise visualisation's gaze?

 

The Index of Performative Keys

Nathaniel Tkacz, University of Warwick

The Index of Performative Keys (see ipk.solutions) explores the relationship between dashboard interfaces and performance management. The Index of Performative Keys is at once a dashboard and a commentary on the historical tendencies written in to dashboard design. As a dashboard, it is evidence that increasingly anything can be ‘dashboarded’ or folded into the dashboard format. As a commentary, it explores the extension and intensification of performance management techniques beyond the realm of management and into everyday life. The IPK is based on the premise that there is a need to move beyond evaluating data visualization on the grounds of aesthetics (good or bad visualization) or epistemology (true or false, misleading visualization). Instead, we must attend to the co-implication of specific visual formats with cultural and organizational settings. We can use ‘visual forms of knowledge production’ (Drucker, 2014) to explore, reflect upon, and ultimately produce other ways of knowing and acting.

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