Of models, measurement, the multi-interpretive, and the plurinational

The diverse range of concerns reflected in discussions pertaining to data and visualization speak to the importance of humanistic reasoning which in the best case scenario forms an integral part of the practices of producing data sourced and digitally mediated understanding. Whether the concerns relate to the material consequences of data and visualization for specific audiences and populations or to more abstract implications of data and representation, humanistic reasoning takes us further along the continuum toward data and visualization literacy. While the notion of literacy is not without risks and dangers, such as socially divided in-groups and out-groups, the tremendous consequences of different levels of awareness and understanding of the hidden implications and life-altering consequences of data and digital representation argue for dedicated and specialized education and research.

Johanna Drucker’s powerful proposal for the development of interpretive expressions based on “information about subjective user-dependent metrics, subjective displays of information, and subjective methods of graphical expression” builds on Lev Manovich’s descriptive analysis of the reductive nature of graphic primitives. Tressie McMillan Cottom’s cautionary critique of the myriad constraints, farfetched analytical frameworks, and “the power relations of financial actors or the social construction of race in computational models or analytical frameworks” embedded in big data underscores Drucker’s theory of the observer co-dependent nature of value-laden data and phenomena. Jennifer Guiliano and Carolyn Heitman’s conceptualization of “difficult heritage” helps to contextualize the consequences of colonialist harm in relation to both indigenous data and the representations of enslaved peoples’ experiences in digital story telling.

Are there unaddressed implications of the roles of models and measurement in Drucker’s systematization of factors and functions in interpretative analysis? To the extent indigenous nations and communities favor plurinational states (now built into the Bolivian and Ecuadorean constitutions), multi-interpretive approaches might include a variety of models of time and space, such as cyclical views of history developed by indigenous cultures. What are the limits of the use and display of measurements and counting and can old-fashioned narrative and textual explication play a critical role in the exposition and explanation of what might be inherently difficult and troubled data and visualization in and of themselves? Fundamental to any understanding are the questions about who originates and creates data and visualization, for whom, for what purpose, and who ultimately benefits.