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Visualisation and Computerisation: Putting RSAnimate into perspective

How does visualisation enact a message or a lecture?

This question was posed by sociologist and ethnographer Steve Woolgar in his introductory keynote at the ongoing Visualisation in the Age of Computerisation Conference in Oxford. He provided one very entertaining example that deserves a replay. Contradicting the much-celebrated RSAnimate's visualisation of a Slavoj Zizek lecture (on 'cultural capitalism') with the more mundane video of Zizek delivering the lecture in person, Woolgar invited us to think about what it means to visualise.

While Woolgar would normally argue that maintaining an ethnographic distance to the phenomenon under study is key to making a valuable contribution, in this morning's keynote, he played with the thought that it might be possible to allow oneself be dragged in by the lure and coolness of the visuals if at the same time maintaining a reflexive irony.

In this spirit I would recommend the reader to expose herself to Woolgar's example. First, have a look at (at least) the first couple of minutes of Zizek's lecture:

Then, swap the video of a sweaty and slightly frantic Zizek with the visualisation (and indeed editing) of RSAnimate:

No wonder that RSAnimate has been celebrated for making abstract concepts and theories more accessible! Now, what does that tell us about the power of visualisation? Are we perhaps hard-wired to be more stimulated by animation than speech? Or is it that the animator contributed with a synchronous interpretation of Zizek's thoughts - a series of mental images that we would wish we had created ourselves?

To finish off with my own addition to Woolgar's cinematic remix (or perhaps deconstruction?), the most recent RSAnimate incidentally animates a lecture of Evgeny Morozov, whose new book The Net Delusion was recently pseudo-reviewed on this blog:

Feel free to compare the above with Morozov's actual lecture to further explore the role of visualisation by animation.


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