The Role of Visualization in Controversies over Technological Developments

E. Gommeh, T.A.P. Metze, Huub Dijstelbloem

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Societal controversies over technological development, among them food technologies, often have a visual dimension. For example, an image of flammable tap water (originally from the documentary Gasland) strengthened the association of a contested technology – hydraulic fracturing – with risk and influenced the evolution of the controversy in some countries (Mazur 2016; Metze 2017). Yet, visualizations in controversies over technological developments are often overlooked. To better understand the role of visualization in these controversies we develop the Visual Discourse Coalitions approach by drawing on work on discourse coalitions (Bulkeley, 2000; Dodge & Lee, 2017; Hajer, 1995), the Dynamic Discourse Coalitions approach (Metze & Dodge, 2016) and visual political theory (Bleiker 2018; Mitchell 1994). In this paper we conceptualize ‘Visual Discourse Coalition’ (VDC), a network of actors who share a similar storyline and similar visual representations of the issue at hand, and develop the ‘VDC theoretical framework’ which approaches visualization as a practice that contributes to the evolution of discourse coalitions. We explore a method to identify VDC’s in controversies over technological developments and to reveal manners in which visualization contributes to discourse coalitions evolution. The goal of our research is to reveal how actors use visualization and influence the dynamics of the controversy. Drawing on empirical examples from the shale gas case we reveal four ways in which visualization influences discourse coalitions: (1) visualization repeats and strengthens storylines of discourse coalitions, (2) visualization connects storyline of different discourse coalitions, (3) visualization contributes to breaking apart of a discourse coalition into different ways of interpreting a policy issue, and (4) visualization emphasizes and increases the tension between storylines of different discourse coalitions. We suggest that the VDC theoretical and methodological frameworks can be applied to controversies over food technologies. They can highlight special features of visualizations and a unique way in which they influence the controversy. Moreover, the visual dimension of a controversy can expose new aspects of the controversy, and in some cases can result in an emergence of new actors in it. Thus, it is important for decision makers to acknowledge the visual dimension of a controversy and to study it.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventInternational Seminar Visual Framing of Food Technologies - Wageningen University, Wageningen, Netherlands
Duration: 17 Oct 201917 Oct 2019


ConferenceInternational Seminar Visual Framing of Food Technologies


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