May 2021 MDAP Seminar
The Epoch of Incredulity: Data, Narrative & Contemporary Crisis
Abstract: Recent (and ongoing) global crises have exposed the acute consequences of poorly communicated public-health data. Despite the unprecedented availability of ever larger quantities of data, governments the world over have failed to understand not only the data they have but how the process of producing and visualising that data shapes public perception of the very nature of crises themselves. With changes in government or reinvigorated bureaucracies an unlikely solution, how can we tell better stories with data going forward? This presentation will consider three literary texts, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1859), Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse (1927), and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), as sites for thinking about the significance of narrative theory, genre theory and media theory to the communication of ‘data stories’ in moments of contemporary crisis. While the study of literary form has often been regarded as an exercise at odds with scientific rigor, narrative structures are crucial for understanding how to effectively communicate with digital data. The close reading of literary texts, an act that embraces rather than resists ambiguity, is also key to understanding ethical and compassionate judgement, an increasingly important factor in everything from data visualisation and social media streaming through to multimedia journalism and augmented reality.
Speaker bio: Tyne is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Melbourne. She works on the ARC Discovery project ‘Literature and the Face: A Critical History’ with Professor Stephanie Trigg and Dr Joe Hughes at the University of Melbourne and Professor Guillemette Bolens at the University of Geneva. She is also a researcher on the ARC LIEF ‘The Australian Cultural Data Engine for Research, Industry and Government’ (ACD-E) with Professor Rachel Fensham in the Digital Studio. Her monograph, Lyric Eye: The Poetics of Twentieth-Century Surveillance is forthcoming with Routledge in August 2021.