A Recent work in information studies re-engages with theories of subject enunciation first developed in the work of twentieth century structuralist and post-structuralist critics. To date this work has not been extended to the analysis of data visualizations. The purpose of this paper is to assert that information visualizations embody specific dynamics of positionality for which linguist Emile Benveniste’s formulation of a speaking and spoken subject provides a critical analytic framework. In particular, enunciative theory can be used to explicitly address the mechanisms of power formation in information graphics “spreadsheets, charts and interfaces” that are frequently seen as mere presentations of quantitative or statistical information. This approach is based on attention to the performative aspects of graphic expression and the ways familiar features such as frontality framing and scale can be read critically.
A theoretical argument that applies literature in enunciation as developed in linguistics, film theory, and psychoanalysis to information visualizations. The paper makes specific analyses of the graphical features of spreadsheets, common charts and graphs, and interfaces to show how they create speaking and spoken subject positions.
The theory of enunciation is useful in understanding the ways information representations, particularly visualizations of data, work to produce power relations.
The topic may seem to draw on theoretical positions that are associated with structural and post-structural theory popular three decades ago, but since the study of enunciation was never applied to information visualizations, the work feels timely. Recent work in information studies has re-engaged with these theoretical issues, but not applied them to charts, graphs, and other visual forms. Information visualizations are so prevalent that any critical insight into their operations feels timely, even urgent.
The concept of information as enunciation in recent work in information studies has not been applied to visualizations. Analysis of the production of subject positions as commonly understood in other fields (linguistics, textual studies, film studies, visual studies, and psychoanalysis across a broad range of cultural studies fields) can be usefully applied to information graphics.
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