Yesterday I gave a presentation on “Ways of Seeing Data” at the Digital Methods Winter School Mini-Conference at the University of Amsterdam.
The presentation was based on a forthcoming publication co-authored with Liliana Bounegru, Stefania Milan and Paolo Ciuccarelli in which we propose a heuristic framework for advancing critical literacies to read, understand, create and work with data visualisations.
Ways of Seeing Data: Towards a Critical Literacy for Data Visualisations as Research Objects and Devices
In the digital age, data visualisations are becoming an increasingly prominent genre for the representation and mediation of collective life – from digital analytics dashboards to interactive news graphics. At the same time they are becoming more and more popular as methods in media and communications studies as well as in humanities and social science research more broadly. Inspired by John Berger’s work to develop a critical literacy for visual culture, this chapter aims to contribute towards a critical literacy for data visualisations. In particular we argue for “methodological reflexivity” (Agre, 1997; Rieder and Röhle, 2012) around the use of data visualisations in research as both instruments and objects of study. We develop a heuristic framework for studying three forms of mediation which data visualisations enact – drawing on research and insights from new media studies, science and technology studies, the history and philosophy of science, cultural studies and critical social theory. We illustrate these three forms of mediation with an analysis of visualisations of public finances from civil society organisations, media outlets and public institutions. We conclude with some thoughts towards a broader programme of critical literacy for reading and doing research with data visualisations.