The Narrative Dilemma of NewRadial

Posted by on Oct 16, 2013 in Blog, Modeling/Prototyping, Projects

[Submitted by Marc Muschler]

In his most recent blog post, Adam Foster brings to light the idea of cartography in relation to the NewRadial engine and how the program can be utilized to essentially map one’s way through the critical scholarship of a particular field to visually represent an argument or discussion. This is an incredibly interesting idea and has great potential within the context of NewRadial, but it also complicates the matter of narrative construction within the program and raises the question as to whether this is a productive approach to scholarship. NewRadial’s cartographical uses, namely through the use of select critical texts to map out an argument, imposes what Adam refers to as an “arborescent schema” upon the mapping process, thereby deferring some scholarship in favour of others and imposing an argument regarding the very nature of valid scholarship simply through selecting specific works. This inherently complicates the founding principles of NewRadial and thus brings into question the validity of narrative within the confines of the program. Is this a productive approach to scholarship, or does the very nature of argument need to be redefined within the context of NewRadial’s usage? What other ways are there to visually conceive and understand critical texts within relation to each other, and what role (whether positive or negative) does NewRadial play in this new conceptualization of argumentation?

As I mention in my previous blog post, NewRadial’s visualization process has the ability to break down temporal binaries that are an inherent part of current scholarship, yet in doing so it also eliminates the pseudo-narrative of reader-response criticism which is an essential part of scholarly discourse as we know it. This has the benefit of detracting from the assumed relationship between critical discourse and source text, making the scholarship as much a part of the scholarly interpretation of the primary text as the text itself and thus recognizing the importance of scholarly criticism to the reader’s interpretation of a text. Unfortunately, NewRadial’s interface organizes the information in a way that removes the user’s ability to interpret and analyze scholarly data from the perspective of those who wrote the texts, which contributes to a modernized, informed interpretation of the text but removes the ability to understand the relationship between scholars and the influence of temporality on information exchange. This in turn raises the question as to how influential the narrative of discourse is upon academics, and whether these narratives require a visual representation akin to those cartographical schemas which can represent the ebb and flow of a scholarly argument in NewRadial.

There may be no answer to this question; perhaps the narrative of scholarship is not as influential as previously imagined and, as I have suggested before, temporal binaries do not need to exist in the visual processes of NewRadial. In contrast, perhaps they are a pertinent and necessary aspect of academics which needs to be acknowledged because of its influence on the way in which we interpret source works. Regardless of the answer, it is a question that needs to be considered in the context of NewRadial because to omit or include such a feature without proper consideration impacts both the methodology of the program and the future research capabilities and opportunities in the application’s context.

For what it is worth, I think that it is impossible to escape narrative within the context of scholarship but that the relationship and fixation on this dialogue and the temporality of academic arguments hinders the development of thought. If we are to visualize the relationship between source and scholarship as an interconnected web (a visual process which NewRadial can represent quite well) and produce a visually comprehendible argument via the tools within the application, than the temporal narrative of scholarship would only complicate the creation of discourse and add a redundant layer of representation which would confuse a visual model. While temporality may prove to be useful within other models of representation, NewRadial can effectively model a visually and logically conducive argument without taking heed of this extra layer of concern. With this is mind, the narrative of scholarship becomes less a concern of the temporal and more one of argumentation – instead of fixating on how we can visually represent time through NewRadial, we can instead focus on the ways in which one can develop a narrative of argument through the linking and visualizing of the sources themselves in relation to a text.

This brings us back to the question of the breadth of NewRadial’s modeling environment and how we can visually represent the massive amount of scholarship associated with any text. There are a number of ways to effectively approach this issue, but as Adam discusses in his blog post, we need to be aware of both NewRadial’s potential as a tool of scholarly discourse and visualization and the factors that would significantly limit those capabilities. To limit the program to strictly that of a data visualizer (that being the massive amount of scholarship visualized on a singular page) would reduce its effectiveness and potential as a means of conveying academic discourse. One solution is to allow for both a “global” and a “regional” visual plane, in which the user is able to select certain texts and simplify an otherwise overwhelming amount of data down to an understandable and discernable body of work. In this way, NewRadial will be able to bridge the gap between its effective usage as a map of academic argument and its greater potential as a visual representation of massive amounts of data at one time.

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