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Panel Session 3: Datavis politics

The Ideological Work That Visualisation Conventions Do

Helen Kennedy, University of Sheffield, and Giorgia Aiello, University of Leeds

This paper argues that visualisation conventions work to make the data represented within visualisations seem objective, that is, transparent and factual. Interrogating the work that visualisation conventions do helps us to make sense of the apparent contradiction between criticisms of visualisations as doing ideological work and visualisation designers’ belief that through visualisation, it is possible to ‘do good with data’ (Periscopic, 2014). We focus on four conventions which imbue visualisations with a sense of objectivity, transparency and facticity. These include: a) two-dimensional viewpoints; b) clean layouts; c) geometric shapes and lines; d) the inclusion of data sources. We argue that thinking about visualisations from a social semiotic standpoint, as we do in this paper by bringing together what visualisation designers say about their intentions with a semiotic analysis of the visualisations they produce, advances understanding of the ways that data visualisations come into being, how they are imbued with particular qualities and how power operates in and through them. Thus this paper contributes nuanced understanding of data visualisations and their production, by uncovering the ways in which power is at work within them. In turn, it advances debate about data in society and the emerging field of data studies.

 

Brexit, Racist Attacks and Ideographics

Ray Drainville, University of Sheffield

Within a week of the EU referendum, hate crimes increased 500%. It is assumed that the two are connected, but how did a vote on the status of the UK in a larger economic block turnfor exampleinto attacks on citizens of Asian background? I analyse the iconography of the Leave campaign's ostensibly objective graphical imagery and interweave it with demographic data, showing how the campaign played upon the concerns of voters and tapped into the thematic history of invasion and otherness.

 

Archival Infrastructures, Data Visualization, Imaginative Failure and Designs for Leaky Wars Unknowing

Nanna Bonde Thylstrup and Daniela Agostinho, University of Copenhagen

The 20th and 21st century have seen a heightened complexity in both the course of warfare (Gregory, 2011; Massumi, 2015) and its mediations, giving rise to a new diffuse war situation (Hoskins and O’Loughlin, 2010). Today, we see that images of conflict are produced by new actors such as amateur reporters, circulated through new infrastructures such as social media and anonymous whistleblower sites, and interpreted in new ways through various forms of visualizations devised by professional media organizations and online communities. new media ecosystem. Using the archives of the Wikileak war logs, and the data visualizations it has given rise to, the proposed talk focuses on the mediation of contemporary warfare through the archives they generate, the information leaks they are marred by and the data visualizations they give rise to. It is our claim that the archival information generated by modern conflict is an obscure data flow that circulates through leaky network infrastructures (Chun, 2016) and that they have given rise to a new genre of visual representation. We suggest that contemporary war archives pose a representational paradox because they, when leaked in the name of transparency, nevertheless appear opaque. The contradiction between the obscurity of war archives, and the transparency they purport to offer once leaked, have given rise to a new genre of visual representation of war which, while seeking to dispel the idea of war as remote, bloodless and surgical, nevertheless often falls back on familiar tropes of existing war representations such as those generated by military technologies (heat maps, drone imagery, body counting, etc.). As such we argue that the new genre of visualization that arises from the leaked war archives displays what we with Orit Halpern (2014) call an “imaginative failure,” creating uniform visual renditions out of the data. The Wikileaks War Logs offers itself as a perfect example to examine these new dynamics. While the release of the “Collateral Damage” video by Wikileaks has received extensive scholarly attention, much remains to be investigated on the visualizations resulting from the analysis of the war logs. The talk will focus in particular on the Afghanistan logs, the first to be released, and examine visualizations produced by cooperating media outlets as well as user-generated images. This talk addresses the conditions of visual representation of conflict within this Given the rise of data visualization as both a phenomenon and a methodological persuasion in visual representation of conflict, we believe that it is time to start critically interrogating this phenomenon, its infrastructures, and its perceptual and cognitive implications, as well a pointing towards other ways in which war archives can be rendered visual and visceral. As a final point, then, we turn to Catherine D’Ignazio’s “design for unknowing” to discuss in which ways we can think of visualization and visceralization as methods to provoke and destabilize dominant forms of knowing, to ask what and who is outside the archive, and to include more voices and bodies in its production.

 

The Social Shaping of Network Visualization Boundaries

Sian Joel-Edgar, Bath University

Social media, and the data it produces, lends itself to being visualized as a network. For instance, individual twitter users can be represented as nodes and being re-tweeted by another twitter user forms a relationship, an edge, between users. However, an unbounded network is a sprawling mass of nodes and edges. A number of boundary settings are typically applied, for example, a time period, a hashtag, a keyword search, a graph layout algorithm or a network sub-structure of a phenomenon of interest. Thus the particular visualization created is dependent upon the boundaries applied, enabling productive visual consumption but concealing its social shaping. To explore this question of boundary setting and its associated issues, we draw on a small example from the twitter discussions about the U.K. minister for health, Jeremy Hunt, and the media debate surrounding the contractual hours for junior doctors. We discuss the role and impact differing stakeholders (the originator of the data, the analyst or the visualization consumer) have on setting these boundaries. We ask why these boundary settings are chosen, what affect it has, and what are the potential implications of these boundary setting techniques on the visualisation consumer.

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