Culture and Politics of Data Visualisation


University of Sheffield, 10 October

As data become more and more abundant, the main way that most people get access to them is through their visualisation. To date, much academic research about data visualisation has focused on individualistic and micro-level factors like memorability and speed of comprehension and has not attended to the social, cultural, political work that visualisations do, the contexts in which they circulate, and the mutually constitutive relationships between visualisations and their contexts. More recently, critical perspectives have begun to emerge, which point to the ways in which visualisations can privilege certain viewpoints, perpetuate existing power relations or create new ones, and play a role in the generation and modification of knowledge, cognition, perceptions of objectivity and opaque forms of governance and control. These critiques exist alongside the apparently contradictory belief that data visualisations are a way of ‘doing good with data’, making data transparent and accessible and so enabling greater inclusion in data-driven conversations and societies.

This one-day conference addresses the culture and politics of data visualisation, brings critical thought into dialogue with the practice and potential of visualising data and considers how they might inform each other. In this way, it is neither a ‘show & tell’ nor a critique of datavis as ideologically implicated, but a space for productive exchange between critical thinking and datavis practice. We invite you to join us to consider these questions:

  • How do data visualisations get made, used, circulated and consumed, and what are the implications of these processes for society, culture and politics?
  • What problems and opportunities does the spread of data visualisation bring with it?
  • To what extent do data visualisations get used in the interests of power or to act against power?
  • How can the belief that visualisation makes data transparent and accessible be brought together productively with critiques of visualisation-as-control?
  • How should we account for the affective dimensions of data visualisation?
  • How can visualisation be used in socially useful ways?
  • What does critically-informed, reflective data visusalisation look like?

Confirmed keynote/plenary speakers include:

  • Catherine D’Ignazio, MIT Center for Civic Media/Emerson Engagement Lab, USA
  • Cath Sleeman, Quantitative Research Fellow, NESTA.

Important information

Conference website:

Book your place here:

Registration closes 31st August 2016.

The conference fee is £40 waged, £25 unwaged/student.

The conference is sponsored by the University of Sheffield’s Digital Society Network (DSN). Find out more about the DSN here:

For more information, please contact

The conference organisers are: Professor Helen Kennedy, Dr Annamaria Carusi and Dr Mark Taylor at the University of Sheffield.