Beyond immediacy and transparency. A semiotic approach to discursive and rhetorical strategies in media visualization and data visualization

By: Valentina Manchia


Volume: 08
Issue: 01:Summer 2022
ISSN: 2459-2943
DOI: 10.18680/hss.2022.0006
Pages: 85-113
Lic.: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
Media visualization
Data visualization
Information design



Media visualization based on big cultural data, as “visualization without reduction” (Manovich 2010) is supposed to make data immediately and completely available, in contrast to classic data visualization, which visually translates information by means of “graphical primitives.” On the other hand, from a pure functionalist point of view, also the visual form of diagrams, charts, and graphs, being fully proportional to the data values it conveys, is transparent with respect to its object (cf. Tufte 1990, 1997, 2001, and Card, Mackinlay, Shneiderman 1999).

In this paper we will try to consider both media visualization and data visualization (across several examples, including some Manovich’s and Accurat’s projects and New York Times graphics) as complex visual communication artifacts, not only from a purely informational point of view but from a semiotic point of view, by introducing a semiotic reflection on what we have proposed to call “discourse of data”
(Manchia 2020a).

From our perspective, situated in the methodological framework of visual semiotics, and of the semiotics of scientific discourse, it might be interesting to pay attention to the whole process of constructing knowledge (and visual information) from data, understood as a chain of “devices of visualization” (Bastide 1985a, 1990 [1985b], 2001), investigating data as a channelled result, and also visualization strategies of specific–and oriented–discourses across data.


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