Visualisation tools

June 26, 2011 § 1 Comment

I am yet to figure out the most useful buzzword by which to refer to this: David McCandless, for example, uses “infographics” and “designed information”; Matt Woolman refers to “functional visualisations”; Manuel Lima refers to the “visualisation of complex networks”.

I am also not yet ready to think or write much about this as I don’t have time, so this blogpost is just a space for jotting down some initial thoughts and links to visualisation tools that I have come across. What interests me about these tools is the possibility of presenting information in new ways that make it easier and more intuitive for viewers to see connections, the relationships that influence and produce changes.

This links with my interest in Bruno Latour (1996, 2005) and the Actor-Network Theory with which he is associated. The analysis I developed in my PhD drew on a particular interpretation of Latour’s approach that has been used recently in the anthropology of development, in particular in Cultivating Development (2005), a book by my PhD supervisor, David Mosse.

Latour understands “the social” as something that needs to be constantly made and maintained, and understands this as taking place through processes of assembly whereby diverse actors are enrolled into larger collectives, particular ways of being, and projects. Recent anthropology of development has drawn on Actor-Network Theory to emphasise that the policies that see the light of day – those that make it out of planning offices and into the field, those that are translated from a “world of signs into a world of objects” (Mosse 2005: 35) – are those that succeed in ‘enrolling’ a wide range of actors with different agendas. Successful ‘enrolment’ relies upon ‘brokers and translators’ (Lewis and Mosse 2006) able to translate different agendas into terms that make them appear compatible with each other.

Actor-Network Theory offers a framework for examining the relationships between actors that enable collectives to come together. For me, at this point in time, the significance of the visualisation tools I am currently investigating is that they offer different ways of presenting the information gathered through such a study.

Links to visualisation tools:


Latour, Bruno (1996) Aramis, or The Love of Technology trans. Catherine Porter. London: Harvard University Press

Latour, Bruno (2005) Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory Oxford: Oxford University Press

Lewis, David and David Mosse (2006) (eds.) Development Brokers and Translators: the ethnography of aid and agencies Bloomfield, Conn.: Kumarian Press

Mosse, David (2005) Cultivating Development: An Ethnography of Aid Policy and Practice London: Pluto Press


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