The politics and ideologies of data visualisation: A sociological perspective

Cybercultural Research Project: Second Progress Report

Since my first progress account I have renamed my topic, The politics and ideologies of data visualisation: A sociological perspective. The following is an updated outline that will guide the production of a research report or digital artefact.

Introductory Remarks

I will employ data visualisation to mean ‘the visual representation of statistical and other types of numeric and non‑numeric data through the use of static or interactive pictures and graphics.’  For now, I will define cyberculture simply and according to Mirriam Webster. I will also distinguish data from information in order to lay groundwork for the introduction of emergent critical perspectives associated with the politics and ideologies of data visualisation (abbrev. dataviz). For example, the ideological work that data visualisations do introduces dataviz conventions as functioning to produce a sense of ‘objectivity, transparency and facticity.’  In reality, graphics may be value-laden, ambiguous and fictitious (See also: Seeing Data 2016).  The introductory paragraphs will also note broad relevance of the topic, defining the concepts of information saturation (or overload), ‘data explosion’ and data science.

A sociologist in training, I will overview abstracts and biographies of a recent sociological conference to underscore the progress of Sociology in recent years, as these have been significant guides in my research. I will cite Healy and Moody’s view of Sociology as lagging in the use of visual tools.  This research will note the historical association of social work with the development and implementation of national policy circa the welfare state in 1946 to present. The Australian Commonwealth has exercised control over the direction of national social policy since the founding of the Commonwealth Research Bureau in 1944 (Morning Bulletin 1947). The privatization of social services will be raised as a related issue of concern in neoliberal contexts like Australia.

The four arguments introduced in my first progress report will be summarized for my audience and continue to guide topic development.

Research Body

Accordingly, I will exemplify how both past inventions and futuristic thinking have shaped the development of data visualisation technologies and practices. Examples of what science fiction has technologically foreseen will be provided in reference to a presentation by Jeffrey Heer titled A Brief History of Data Visualization.  This source will be coupled with a Milestones Tour to provide an overview of current DV trends and research areas. Augmented reality (AR) will be exemplified, envisioned in 1968 and famously employed in AR animation by Hans Rosling in recent years.

Of what was been culturally foreseen and is of relevance to the topic, I will cite Huff in his ‘prophetic’ reference to GH Wells in How to Lie with Statistics‘Statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write.’ I will also quote Aldous Huxley’s utopiandystopian Brave New Word (1932), in which ‘liberties and individuality’ have been lost ‘in the name of universal stability’ (Shmoop 2016).  This will be an allusion to the implication of social work with national population and fiscal policy targeting ‘illegitimate‘ children during 20th century Australia.

In the second section of the report’s body I will exemplify how governments and bureaucracies have significant authority in the relationship between the user and the computer, aiming questions of cyberculture at the legitimacy of related structures of command.  The following related research into dataviz forms an amended outline of sources extending on my first progress report and is a work in progress:

A glossary of terms will accompany an introduction to an Australian case study detailed in my first progress report. Entries will underscore the prodigious influence of digitally enabled communication, networked computation and media technologies in proliferating issues of related concern, including population trends and curvessocial entropy (see also: Galtung in 1967), exponential growth and singularity.

This case study will critique a dominant discourse and related DV by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, positing national social policy in contemporary cyberspace arenas.  An alternative DV will provide a statistical estimate of an historically marginalised group. Statistical relativity will be discussed and feature David McCandless’ take on the topic.  This work will be emancipatory and state author biases.

Conclusion

The conclusion will summarise identified limits and affordances of our technology infused realities, including: data inadequacies, the need for increased scepticism of data and new hypotheses.

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