Visual Studies for Modelers

In the framework of the conference Modeling Science, I presented a paper entitled ‘The view from nowhere: digital visualizations of science and the God-trick’. The audience was mainly made up of model and simulation builders, working from a very data-driven tradition. Many of them had a physics background, and very little affinity with social theory or cultural analysis. A main part of my presentation was a visual argument, in which I contrasted Powers of Ten and Zoom, and tried to make visible the difference in epistemologies of these two zooms. I’m not sure I was able to convince the entire room to embrace situated knowledge, but they did laugh in the right places, which is an indication that we connected. And I think the talk contributed to creating that interface between modeling and science studies that has been developing over the past few years, thanks to Andrea Scharnhorst‘s work, and to activities at the VKS.

Here is the abstract of my talk:

This contribution is an invitation to consider models and simulations as forms of visual knowing. This approach enables the analysis of two tendencies in many visualisations of science: the ‘view from nowhere’ and the seamless zoom. The epistemological and political implications of these tendencies will be teased out in a visual argument that contrasts two versions of a ‘zoom’ in the world (the film Powers of Ten and the book Zoom). The value of situatedness (i.e. acknowledging points of view, mediation or origin) in order to produce responsible representations of science will be explained. Conceptually, the talk will draw on the work of Donna Haraway, Svetlana Alpers, and Bolter & Grusin among others. Forms of visual knowing are further explored in a number of projects of the Virtual Knowledge Studio (Knowledge Space Lab, ‘Can you see what I know?’ and Network Realism).

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1 Comment

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One response to “Visual Studies for Modelers

  1. Andrea Scharnhorst

    I heard several comments about how interesting the talk was. Katy Boerner, one of the leading mapmakers said to me that this “breaking” or “changing” of perspectives is just what is needed and often missing in nowadays overwhelming visual presentations. In the discussion she mentioned the need for a visual training, so that people are able to “look behind” of often beautiful and seducing maps.
    Anne’s contribution made the urgently needed link towards a thouroughly critical reflection about the use of visual methods. If we want a sustainable and reliable use of visualizations as “trading zone” (Galison) and “market place” (Boerner, http://www.scimaps.org) this critical attitude is as necessary as the creative process of map-making itself. I dare to say, we get only good maps if we question the maps at the same time we make them.
    Andrea

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