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New Issue of ‘Public Culture’ on Environmental Visualization

2014 May 22
by Shared by Steve Rust

The latest issue of the journal Public Culture centers on the topic of environmental visualization.

Here is a link to the issue and a short excerpt from the introduction “Environmental Visualization in the Anthropocene: Technologies, Aesthetics, Ethics” by Allison Carruth and Robert P. Marzec:

From climate change models to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) “Species Tracker,” environmental visualizations are political and politicized as much as aesthetic and aestheticized. Digital infrastructures (like the data centers that run the cloud and the global positioning systems [GPS] that generate high-resolution images of the earth’s surfaces) and digital media (including computer-generated imagery in filmmaking and viral online videos) have come to color our sight lines perhaps even more extensively than industrial technologies defined the landscapes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Contemporary acts of visualizing environmental crises and environmental solutions often hide, moreover, the ecological footprint of image-making technologies themselves, which tend to promise the transparent representation of empirical facts or shared experiences. For instance, the infographics (or “infovis”) that large environmental NGOs commission to mobilize publics cultivate what Houser, in her essay, calls “a connect-the-dots aesthetic, constituted by an aerial perspective and finite lines, that privileges simplicity, transparency, and speed.” Consider, too, the photojournalistic coverage of the Belo Monte Dam project in Amazonian Brazil and the indigenous opposition movement that culminated in a 2012 summit in Rio de Janeiro. Marzec’s essay examines this struggle to make a postcolonial intervention in the imperial “view from above,” which makes claims of empirical knowledge and accurate spatial modeling and which mass media perpetuates in situating events like the Rio summit on the larger stage of planetary politics. As the media anthropologist Faye Ginsburg (2008: 289) emphasizes, inquiries like Houser’s and Marzec’s invite us to ask, “Who has the right to control knowledge and what are the consequences of the new circulatory regimes introduced by digital technologies?”

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