Of Course it’s Political! A Critical Inquiry into Underemphasized Dimensions in Civic Text Visualization


Eric P. S. Baumer, Mahmood Jasim, Ali Sarvghad, and Narges Mahyar. 2022. Of Course it’s Political! A Critical Inquiry into Underemphasized Dimensions in Civic Text Visualization. Computer Graphics Forum 41, 3 (EuroVis). preprint


Recent developments in critical information visualization have brought the field’s attention to political, feminist, ethical, and rhetorical aspects of data visualization. However, less work has explored the interplay between design decisions and political ramifications—structures of authority, means of representation, etc. In this paper, we build upon these critical perspectives and highlight the political aspect of civic text visualization especially in the context of democratic decision-making. Based on a critical analysis of survey papers about text visualization in general, followed by a review on the status quo of text visualization in civics, we argue that civic text visualization inherits an exclusively analytic framing. This framing leads to a series of issues and challenges in the fundamentally political context of civics, such as misinterpretation of data, missing minority voices, and excluding the public from decision making processes. To span this gap between political context and analytic framing, we provide a series of two-pole conceptual dimensions, such as from singular user to multiple relationships, and from complexity to inclusivity of visualization design. For each dimension, we discuss how the tensions between these poles can help surface the political ramifications of design decisions in civic text visualization. These dimensions can thus help visualization researchers, designers, and practitioners attend more intentionally to these political aspects and inspire their design choices. We conclude by suggesting that these dimensions may be useful for visualization design across a variety of application domains, beyond civic text visualization.