13 SES 06, Educational Research, Literature, and Knowledge
In this paper we engage with the fact that educational research is increasingly communicated through ‘visual’ techniques. These include linguistic metaphors drawing on visual forms and ideas, as well as a range of visual imagery and visual media, data visualisations, diagrams, academic conference presentations, research project websites and blogs which synthesise text with photographs, and other visual imagery produced as part of research projects to condense and communicate research findings. Digital visualizations generated from educational data—about national systems, schools, and even individual student’s progress—are also becoming a new source of educational research, albeit often generated by international organizations or commercial companies.
The first section of the paper embodies what might be described as a critical interdisciplinary approach to the visualisation of educational research. We draw on the work of writers who have cast visualisation as a matter of concern and who work in a variety of disciplines, or are themselves chimeras, hybrid beasts made up of parts philosophical, sociological, historical and anthropological (see Latour, 1986, McGann 1991, Kirschenbaum, 2012 and Rose, 1999) Such sensibilities combine to forge strong arguments about the significance of visualisation in the emergence of sciences social and otherwise. The work of Latour et al offers insights to help us to engage with ways in which the educational research field presents and makes itself intelligible in new ways through a variety of social practices of production. We will try and show how techniques of visualisation mediate and augment the educational research findings being communicated—they do not simply and unproblematically represent research. As such, educational research is now being produced as “hybrid artefacts” made up of linguistic components and visual components made possible through increasingly sophisticated material and virtual modes of publication and communication.
Perhaps the boldest claims made on behalf of the importance of visualisation are made by Bruno Latour in his influential essay ‘Visualisation and Cognition: Drawing things together’. Ultimately, Latour comes to argue that we cannot understand the “modern mind” without reference to the visualisations that have come together to produce “the precise practice and craftsmanship of knowing” (p. 3). In the last part of the paper we consider the consequences of Latour’s claims for the practise of philosophy of education? One can navigate one’s way through an entire philosophy of education conference without encountering a single visualisation of any kind, or indeed a discussion of such things. Perhaps philosophers of education offer an act of resistance to the barrage of images that are aggressively coming to constitute the educational domain. Then again perhaps the discipline, in the main, displays a deep rooted form of iconoclasm (see Latour, 2010) that has haunted philosophy from Plato onwards. Beware the false images, reject what is visible or bodily, it will corrupt your search for the truth. Is philosophy of education hopelessly antiquated in regards to its predominant concerns? Ought those of us who might think of ourselves as philosophers of education to come out of our burrows and start tracing the relationships between educational images? There has been a move in this direction in centres such as Leuven but ought this to signal the only way forward? We consider this and the other questions raised above through a reading of Derrida’s Athens Still Remains (2010), a work on photography which shows, amongst other things, how philosophy (and philosophy of education) is and always was in the grip of images Greek in origin. We consider how this aesthetic haunts the palette of contemporary educational research.
In the first part of the paper we consider arguments in favour of taking “visualisation” in research seriously i.e. as something more than just a technical means for communicating ideas. We then draw upon these ideas to look at examples of visualisations and consider how linguistic and visual elements interact to produce meaning out of educational research. The last part of the paper involves forms of philosophical analysis including a close reading of one philosophical text.
In the concluding part of the paper we acknowledge some legitimate directions which the paper might have taken, but which have not been covered here. For example, one may be unconvinced by the importance Latour ascribes to visualisations in the development of the modern mind. Though refutations of Latour’s argument are surely imaginable (and to be hoped for), we are convinced by what he has to say. Therefore, we try to grapple with what his claims might amount to as regards the study of education. We argue in favour of a multi and interdisciplinary approach to understanding the development of the educational field through images. However, we also explore alternative ways of thinking about the “visual” and education by bringing Latour’s work into conversation with Derrida’s meditations on philosophy, photography and the image of Athens. In superficial terms Latour and Derrida’s approaches to visualisations are similar. Both favour a view that embraces metonymic textuality. Latour blows apart the power of “the” image by unearthing the paper trails the “image(s)” that usher in modernity. Derrida’s treatment of the visual is an untimely exploration of a different sort that takes us further back to what we tend to “see” as the origins of philosophy and, indeed, educational thought. We explore the significance of this for philosophical work in education.
Derrida, J. 2010. Athens Still Remains. New York: Fordham University Press. McGann, J. 1991. The Textual Condition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Latour, B. 1986. Visualisation and Cognition: Drawing things together: Knowledge and Society: Studies in sociology of culture past and present 6, 1-40. Latour, B. 2010. On The Modern Cult of the Factish Gods. Duke University Press: Durham and London. Kirchenbaum, M. 2013. The .txtual Condition: Digital Humanities, Born-Digital Archives, and the Future Literary. Digital Humanities Quarterly 7, no. 1: http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/7/1/000151/000151.html Rose, N. 1999. Powers of Freedom: Reframing political thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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