Citizenship in the Age of Complexity
Speaker: Daniel Chamberlain, Occidental College. Moderator: Madeleine Clare Elish, MIT. Abstract: A massive, global financial crisis involving obscure trading products. A healthcare reform effort that extends to thousands of pages and tens of thousands of adjustments to the law. Massive private and public projects. Large-scale urban development. Globalization. These political challenges cannot be adequately understood through the reductive sound bites that constitute our contemporary political culture. Meaningful aspects of these challenges can be addressed with the interpretive methods of the humanities or the analytic tendencies of the social sciences, but such approaches rarely present information that can help a broader public makes sense of the complex, networked challenges we face today. In this brief talk, I will present a set of infographic and data visualization projects that endeavor to make legible the complex array of forces that led to our recent great recession and its political aftermath. In these projects, undertaken by major newspapers, design-oriented magazines, and creative individuals, the underlying data is presented through clever and engaging visualizations that extend the registers of visual epistemology previously attendant to political culture. Complex concepts are not only revealed to be generally understandable, but the use of visual conventions and codes allow for their longer-term imagabilty. The deployment of such visualizations in popular media suggests two main questions for the humanities: how might we teach the digital visual literacy skills necessary to create such graphics and effectively decode their ideological and technological foundations, and how might we apply similar techniques to the regular objects of our study?