Representing and Performing
All of the projects presented in this chapter contribute to a common endeavor of revealing hegemony, but there is a key difference in how they do so. To varying extents, they all leverage qualities of the medium of computation to produce representations, but some go further to produce systems that perform the very conditions of hegemony that they strive to reveal. In doing so, they constitute a mode of adversarial design that is unique to computational media and further demonstrates the ways in which computational information design can do the work of agonism.
Projects such as They Rule, Exxon Secrets, and Unfluence produce representations of hegemony: they graphically depict networks of force, influence, and the means of social manipulation. These representations provide illustrations that document the various actors involved in particular hegemonic conditions and allow users to explore variations across those collections of actors. For example, with the interface elements of these designs (such as menus and check boxes), a user can select different corporations, individuals, or events by which to structure the visualizations. Because the resultant images are procedurally generated, it is possible to produce extensive series and variations of representations with relative ease. With this ability to select among actors and thereby produce different views, the representations begin to provide a perspective on hegemony that aligns with Laclau and Mouffe's notion of hegemony as manifold and multifaceted. Through these representations, users can move beyond understanding hegemony as simply a single-point exertion of force. They are given a view into the constitution of hegemony as a flexible conglomeration of individuals, organizations, ideologies, and actions. They also can analyze the extent to which the particular visual forms of a representation are political—that is, the extent to which they explicitly communicate a contestable position.
Project such as State-Machine: Agency, MAICgregator, and Oil Standard extend the means of graphical depiction and operate in a distinct manner. These projects produce representations but they also perform the hegemonic conditions that they reveal. The hegemonic conditions are procedurally enacted as a user interacts with or makes use of the software.
Consider again State-Machine: Agency. The political stance that is advanced through the visualization is performed through the expressive qualities of the visualization. The software that structures the visualization procedurally enforces relations between datasets, visually formalizing and kinetically expressing a relationship between politicians and money. So with the data and the algorithmic structuring of the work and the affor- dances of interactivity, State-Machine: Agency performs this condition of influence in contemporary politics. When interacting with the visualization, a senator' s position on the screen is defined by his or her relation to the selected funding sources, and it is impossible to separate a senator from these funding sources. Although a user can click and drag a senator away from his or her funding source momentarily, the circle bounces back into place as soon as the user releases the button, thus procedurally performing a claim about the politician's binding relations to campaign contributions.
Even more than State-Machine: Agency, the projects MAICgregator and Oil Standard perform the hegemonic conditions they seek to reveal by way of their technical format. By integrating with the structure of a university Web site or the activity of consumption—that is, by integrating the project with another context and action—they perform the pervasiveness that is characteristic of hegemony. For example, when a user casually shops online with Oil Standard installed, she ubiquitously encounters the value of oil. As long as the extension is running, there is no escape from the collapse of all values into the currency of oil, thus performing the notion of the influence of oil as being all encompassing. The MAICgregator also imbues users with a sense of the sweeping entanglement of academic research and military funding. Both projects also offer an aesthetic strategy of seamlessness that reinforces the pervasiveness of hegemony.20 As the integration of the information concerning defense funding or oil prices is incorporated—by way of transcoding—into the experience of surfing the Web, it enacts the way in which hegemony operates by efficiently interweaving ideology and influence into social structures and everyday activities.
MAICgregator and Oil Standard thus provide demonstrations of how information design and computation might be brought together to construct new forms of adversarial political expression. In these projects, the conditions and constructs of hegemony are literally codified in the design. And moreover, with MAICgregator and Oil Standard, hegemony is brought to the fore in situ. It is encountered in a mediated form that calls attention to itself by both its visual presence and its pervasiveness. Such examples of agonistic information design operate in a manner similar to Bogost 's notion of a procedural rhetoric in video games, which "represent how real and imagined systems work . . . [and] invite players to interact with those systems and form judgments about them" (Bogost 2007, vii). Like the video games that Bogost describes, these examples of agonistic computational information design invite users to experience the conditions and constructs of hegemony, develop an understanding of hegemony, and perhaps form judgments about those conditions.