In his essay "Critical Visualization," Peter Hall (2008, 128) calls on readers to consider visualization as "a creative process concerned with not just the finished artifact but the framing, gathering, connecting and arraying of data" to "imagine it as a critical practice: sizing up and reformulating a terrain of knowledge as well as experimenting with new and alternative forms." This chapter presents examples of such a practice of critical visualization and critical information design that do the political work of agonism. As Mouffe (2005, 25) states, "Mobilization requires politicization, but politicizing cannot exist without the production of a conflictual representation of the world, with opposed claims, with which people can identify, thereby allowing for passions to be mobilized within the spectrum of the democratic process." One of the tasks of agonistic information design is to provide those conflictual representations of the world. The examples in this chapter depict claims concerning the structure and exertion of power and influence in contested matters such as campaign finance, corporate leadership, policy and the environment, military research, and oil.
If agonism is taken to be an ongoing endeavor of politicizing issues, then revealing hegemony is perhaps the most basic tactic of this endeavor. As a tactic, it works to make conflictual positions better known and better available for contest. When analyzing adversarial design, one question to ask is, How and to what extent does a given artifact or system of computational information design engage in the tactic of revealing hegemony?
Answering that question requires investigating the ways that the forms of information design are combined with the principal qualities of computation to render artifacts that are decidedly political. As discussed, the artifacts and systems of computational information design are particularly suited to revealing hegemony because the principal qualities of computation can be used to express the dynamic and associative qualities of influence and social manipulation. Hegemony, as is discussed here and within theories of agonistic pluralism, is not reducible to class distinctions or unidirectional relations from the so-called powerful to the subjugated. Rather, this reconsidered hegemony extends in all directions. Just as the condition of hegemony is heterarchical, organized through associations to issues, so too should be the efforts to expose and document, represent, and perform hegemony. Computation as a medium provides distinctive affor- dances for the political expression of hegemony because of its capacity to render large amounts of ever-changing data from many sources and in many formats. In addition, computation as a medium provides users with the capacity to exert choice in the ordering of that data. Through basic interactivity, users can explore and construct displays of one condition or another, producing representations and performances of hegemony that are reflective of the interests, desires, and in some cases, the actions of the users themselves.
One challenge with the tactic of revealing hegemony is to move beyond simplistic forms of demystification, as if the hegemonic condition was unknown. Too often there is an assumption that simply showing or stating something is an important political act. In some cases, this may be true, but it is important to move beyond just raising a general awareness of a situation. Critical faculties are not needed to discern that special-interest groups and political action committees contribute to election campaigns, that corporations fund research to advocate for policy in their best interest, that universities are entwined with military and intelligence agendas, and that reliance on oil affects all modes and manners of consumption. But the examples in this chapter demonstrate possibilities beyond simply exclaiming, "Hegemony exists!" The examples in this chapter suggest how computational information design might work to delve into and communicate the particularities of hegemonic conditions in novel ways—vividly recording and providing evidence of the associations and flow of resources between people, organizations, and issues, which goes beyond simplistic declarations of the already known.