Monogamous Book Club – Revealing Hegemony

Hegemony and Information Design

Information Design

In reverse order from the title, let’s start with information design (something I presume should be readily transferable to the work of instructional design). DiSalvo explains here that information design concludes in the creation of artifacts that render data. Artifacts can include any combination of elements such as: type, layout, text, diagrams, illustrations, photography, maps, visualizations (more on visualizations below). Putting these elements together you may end up with posters, memes, infographics, etc. DiSalvo draws on the work of Ben Fry (2008) who parses the work required to render data in such ways into 7 steps (and no, it’s not ADDIE, but wow these stages of design are rampant.

7 stages of information design, Ben Fry, 2008

Revealing Hegemony

DiSalvo focuses on a revision of defining hegemony, moving away from strictly class and group based framing to social manipulation and converging different groups to issue oriented ideology.

…the term hegemony broadly describes the way one group develops dominance over another group not by force but by obtaining implicit consent from the subordinate group through social manipulation.(Disalvo, 2012, p. 34)

This screams of a little bit or Orwell and a bit of Huxley, but I’ve also been listening to some debates about which author’s work is most relevant in our current context lately, so maybe that’s why they’re on my mind. Anyway, with this in mind the work of agonism (and thus adversarial design) needs to focus on revealing hegemonic praxis rather than over throwing a single power structure:

Revealing hegemony is a tactic of exposing and documenting the forces of influence in society and the means by which social manipulation occurs.(Disalvo, 2012, p. 35)

The two examples DiSalvo uses to illustrate this “revealing of hegemony” are:

They Rule (2001, 2004, and 2011)

A video of the automated mode of theyrule.net. They Rule (fullsite)

Exxon Secrets (2004)

How Exxon Funds Climate Change Skeptics. Exxon Secrets (interactive map)

Computational Visualization

This portion of the chapter challenged a previous assumption I had about visualization, and I think helped to clarify additional criteria when assessing the adversarial nature of a product/system. Typically, when I hear the term visual, or visualization I tend to jump to images – static or moving – but where I tend to lack any kind of meaningful interaction/control. If I think about graphic design and or visual communication design, the products created (in general) in those disciplines are one way communication and out of the user’s control. Wayfinding artifacts may be static (road signs, navigation signs in buildings, paper maps of buildings) or they can be dynamic (a lit construction sign may scroll through a variety of notices and suggestions for detours). In the cases where a user can interact with the visual (e.g. a touch screen map at a mall), then we would have to ask the rest of the questions I listed in a previous post to determine whether or not the design is doing the work of agonism.

This is an important distinction to make, because it immediately excludes a vast amount of content which at first we might consider to be adversarial but is instead either critical or political design. What comes to mind is the deluge of political memes that folks like Mike Caulfield (Holden) are investigating. Mike goes into great depth about the use of these memes and politics which I won’t even try to summarize here, you should really just read the work. What I will say though is that where images like this fail in the test for adversarial design would be that they don’t necessarily do the work of agonism and strike up discourse. Instead they tend to either reinforce pre-existing notions or cause what’s known as the backfire effect, the latter being something that those who say “believe me because SCIENCE” should really look into. I digress. What’s important for those working on adversarial design to consider is the concordances of both graphics and data, where they intersect, and how it will identify & represent a contestable position (p. 43).

The Dumpster (2006)

The Dumpster from Golan Levin on Vimeo. The Dumpster (fullsite)

We Feel Fine (2005)

We Feel Fine: Mapping the Emotive Quotient of the Earth in a Really Beautiful Way. We Feel Fine (fullsite)

Extensions as Interventions

DiSalvo introduces Mashups and Extensions as potential products of adversarial design. Mashups are defined as new applications that provide a look from the outside in. Extensions, on the other hand, are embedded applications that reveal hegemony from the inside out (think browser extensions in terms of “embedded”).

MAICgregator (2009)

DoD funding for the school. Notice the amount for ICT research? MAICgregator (fullsite)

Oil Standard (2006)

Oil Standard screencast from Michael Mandiberg on Vimeo. Oil Standard (fullsite)

Thinking Out Loud

One challenge with the tactic of revealing hegemony is to move beyond simplistic forms of demystification, as if the hegemonic condition was unknown. too often there is an assumption that simply showing or stating something is an important political act. In some cases, this may be true, but it is important to move beyond just raising a general awareness of a situation.”(Disalvo, 2012, p. 54)

How and to what extent does a given artifact or system of computational information design engage in the tactic of revealing hegemony (p. 54)?

I couldn’t help but think about the connections and hegemony embedded within the educational technology industry. Of course as soon as one thinks about that, they should go check out Audrey Watters’ work via Hack Education. Of particular relevance to adversarial design, Audrey keeps track of funding and acquisition of ed tech companies through her Ed Tech Funding Project.

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