Book Chapter “The Data Epic: Visualisation Practices for Narrating Life and Death at a Distance” in Data Visualization in Society (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press)

I’ve just had a chapter on “The Data Epic: Visualisation Practices for Narrating Life and Death at a Distance” published in a new book on Data Visualization in Society (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press) edited by Helen Kennedy and Martin Engebretsen.

The book is open access and you can download the whole manuscript as as PDF here and you can find my chapter here.

Here’s the abstract for the book:

Today we are witnessing an increased use of data visualization in society. Across domains such as work, education and the news, various forms of graphs, charts and maps are used to explain, convince and tell stories. In an era in which more and more data are produced and circulated digitally, and digital tools make visualization production increasingly accessible, it is important to study the conditions under which such visual texts are generated, disseminated and thought to be of societal benefit. This book is a contribution to the multi-disciplined and multi-faceted conversation concerning the forms, uses and roles of data visualization in society. Do data visualizations do ‘good’ or ‘bad’? Do they promote understanding and engagement, or do they do ideological work, privileging certain views of the world over others? The contributions in the book engage with these core questions from a range of disciplinary perspectives.

Here’s the abstract and full reference for my chapter:

This chapter proposes the notion of the ‘data epic’, which is examined through two works of ‘cinematic data visualization’: The Fallen of World War II and The Shadow Peace: The Nuclear Threat. These pieces mobilize an aesthetics of distance to narrate life and death at scale, in past and possible global conflicts. While previous studies of quantification emphasize the function of distance in relation to aspirations of objectivity, this chapter explores other narrative and affective capacities of distance in the context of ‘public data culture’. The data epic can thus enrich understanding of how data are rendered meaningful for various publics, as well as the entanglement of data aesthetics and data politics involved in visualization practices for picturing collective life.

Keywords: Data politics; Data aesthetics; Data practices; Sociology of quantification; Distance; Scale.

Gray, J. (2020) “The Data Epic: Visualisation Practices for Narrating Life and Death at a Distance.” In H. Kennedy and M. Engebretsen (eds) Data Visualization in Society. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

And here are a couple of quotes about the broader significance of the book:

“The chapters in this expertly edited volume make a crucial contribution to critical studies in the area of data visualization. Focused on a broad range of topics including activism, literacy, accessibility, social disparity, gender politics, and professional practices, the papers demonstrate in case after case the rhetorical power of visualizations and the need to engage critically with that power.” – Johanna Drucker, Breslauer Professor and Distinguished Professor of Information Studies, UCLA

“This book offers unique and much needed perspectives on data visualization culture. While most books still approach the subject in a practical “how to” way, Data Visualization in Society offers a range of critical reflections on key social and culture dimensions of visualization culture. This is the book we have been waiting for.” – Lev Manovich, Professor of Computer Science, The Graduate Center, City University of New York & Director, Cultural Analytics Lab

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