Culture and politics of data visualisation: A one-day conference

University of Sheffield

10 October 2016

The University of Sheffield

As data become more and more abundant, the main way that most people get access to them is through their visualisation. To date, much academic research about data visualisation has focused on individualistic and micro-level factors like memorability and speed of comprehension and has not attended to the social, cultural, political work that visualisations do, the contexts in which they circulate, and the mutually constitutive relationships between visualisations and their contexts. More recently, critical perspectives have begun to emerge, which point to the ways in which visualisations can privilege certain viewpoints, perpetuate existing power relations or create new ones, and play a role in the generation and modification of knowledge, cognition, perceptions of objectivity and opaque forms of governance and control. These critiques exist alongside the apparently contradictory belief that data visualisations are a way of ‘doing good with data’, making data transparent and accessible and so enabling greater inclusion in data-driven conversations and societies.

This one-day conference addresses the culture and politics of data visualisation, brings critical thought into dialogue with the practice and potential of visualising data and considers how they might inform each other. In this way, it is neither a ‘show  and tell’ nor a critique of datavis as ideologically implicated, but a space for productive exchange between critical thinking and datavis practice. We invite you to join us to consider these questions:

  • How do data visualisations get made, used, circulated and consumed, and what are the implications of these processes for society, culture and politics?
  • What problems and opportunities does the spread of data visualisation bring with it?
  • To what extent do data visualisations get used in the interests of power or to act against power?
  • How can the belief that visualisation makes data transparent and accessible be brought together productively with critiques of visualisation-as-control?
  • How should we account for the affective dimensions of data visualisation?
  • How can visualisation be used in socially useful ways?
  • What does critically-informed, reflective data visusalisation look like?
  • We invite participants to submit their own visualisations for presentation in an exhibition at the conference. Participants who wish to do so should indicate this on their paper proposals; organisers will then select visualisations from those proposed to exhibit.

onfirmed keynote/plenary speakers at the event are:

  • Catherine D’Ignazio, MIT Center for Civic Media/Emerson Engagement Lab, USA.
  • Cath Sleeman, Quantitative Research Fellow, NESTA.

The conference is sponsored by the University of Sheffield’s Digital Society Network.

Further Information