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Visual Provocations. Data Visualisations as Representations of Performative Models (2021-2022)

Jan-Erik Stange, Research Area 5: "Building Digital Communities"
Postdoctoral Research Project

With an increasing popularity of digital methods in the humanities, modelling has become ever more important in recent years. One of the main reasons for this interest in modelling is the need for formalisation that algorithms require. So far, the digital humanities have relied on computer-assisted procedures and methods from other areas, mostly the natural sciences. This has led to criticism, since the epistemological foundations of the sciences are quite different from the ones in the humanities. Drucker (2011), for example, criticises the use of tools that are based on the concept of "data". She suggests "capta" as an alternative concept that takes into account humanistic epistemological foundations and the situatedness, partiality and subjectivity of data. In her view, models and data should be based on the research goals of scholars rather than the demands of an algorithm. Van Zundert (2016) calls for a "playful, iterative approach" to data as a resource to explore and play around with instead of treating it as facts.

It seems there is a lot to gain, if we diverge from an understanding of models solely as static end results and instead look at modelling as a dynamic, iterative process of interpretation that produces data that is appropriate to humanistic epistemologies. In a digital environment, data visualisation provides a perfect basis for achieving such an iterative, experimental process. According to C.S. Peirce we can understand data visualisations as models describing structure (Lattmann 2018). Interactive data visualisations thus could figure as models that – through direct manipulation – allow scholars to construct data in a performative way. Manipulation of the model would then directly correspond with manipulation of the underlying data.
This project will investigate what such data visualisations would look like for different temporal communities in cluster projects with respect to their methodological approaches. Modelling temporal communities poses a perfect testbed for developing data visualisation as a modelling approach because of the complexity of transtemporal and transcultural entanglements. As a first example in the project, I will investigate the conceptual history of the term "Design Thinking" that over a period of half a century underwent various semantical transitions in and between communities.