Week 9: Visualisation and a Social Body

As we discovered last week, visualisation is a complex method of making something invisible visible through various means, namely, we discovered graphs, dotted lines and digital VJ-ing. Just when it seems as though we have a good grapple on the concept of visualisation – we can say with utmost certainty that we know that visualisation can be used to represent music or the distance we ran this morning – things are yet again muddied.

While visualisation is capable of revealing and visualising everyday actions that we don’t often turn our minds to, visualisation also has the capability of linking back to a bigger social issue – this week, our readings examined how visualisation can come to play in representing climate change. On one side of the coin, and one that I expected, climate change can be visually represented through graphs about global temperature, global weather maps, tree ring-width and even a hockey stick graph (Information is Beautiful, 2013). Another example is provided by NASA where they represented climate change through a thermal imaging of the world or through the other scientific visualisation techniques provided by Kemp (NASA, n.d; Kemp, 2013).’

However, what challenges my preconceptions about visualisations is the picture imposed on the Metro article (Metro, 2008). Here, a polar bear sitting on an ice cap serves as a symbolic representation of the effects that  climate change can have on the world – highlighting its endangerment if we continue to deny or ignore climate change as a global phenomenon (Metro, 2008).

All these visualisation techniques, regardless of whether it took the form of a photograph or thermal imaging serve the same function – that is, to represent the advent of climate change and in some instances to persuade the public to help prevent or reverse its occurrence. Thus, what could be gathered is that visualisation techniques are not merely a method of making the invisible visible. While this is one of its functions, it goes beyond the mere act of representation – it serves a higher purpose of displaying that which is the pertinent issue on a larger social scale in the hopes of either fostering, reversing or preventing such occurrences.

In short and in quite layman’s terms, visualisation is complex and it’s confusing but it has the potential to foster social changes within our society by representing that which it aims to change.


Anon. (2008) ‘Struggling polar bears put on endangered list’, Metro.co.uk, May 15, <http://www.metro.co.uk/news/147937-struggling-polar-bears-put-on-endangered-list 

Anon. (2009) ‘The Global Warming Skeptics versus the Scientific Consensus’, Information is Beautiful, <http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/climate-change-deniers-vs-the-consensus/>

NASA Scientific Visualization Studio, <http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/



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