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Executive Summary

Overview Report

Main Report

Bibliographic History

Review of Visualization in the Social Sciences: Overview Report

Distribution Amongst the Different Social Sciences

The review of visualization in the social sciences in the 1990s provides the main body of evidence for this report. Because of its growing importance, we have particularly concentrated on research findings that are available on the web, but have also used the BIDS bibliographic system to check for major omissions.

The review shows that geography continues to dominate visualization in the social sciences into the 1990s and onto the web. Given the distribution of publications in the 1970s and 1980s referred to earlier this can be seen as simply an extension of earlier trends. However, the dominance is less than it was before as geographers move away from their traditional cartographic routes and as other subject areas become more familiar and at ease with the use of graphical and visualization techniques.

Our review begins with a short overview of the use of key visualization technologies in use in the social sciences: advanced computer graphics, multimedia, the World Wide Web and virtual reality; and then moves on to consider particular subjects in turn, in rough order of output. We begin with geography and attempt to produce as brief an overview of work in this discipline as possible, but note the advantages that geography has as a "mixed" social science / science subject in terms of gaining access to computer literate researchers. We next consider planning as there are many similarities with geography in terms of the visualization research currently being conducted in this discipline with similar reasons. Our third subject for consideration is psychology. We were initially surprised to find so many applications of visualization technologies until we realised that psychology too is a split social science / science subject and so too has the advantages in terms of using computers of a generally more numerate and computer literate research base than many other subjects. The fourth subject area in which we found the most use of visualization was historical research and, in particular economic history. Again this is initially surprising until the links with science are considered.

We found our fewest examples of visualization research in politics, economics and sociology and explain this through a combination of traditional resistance to graphic techniques mixed with a relatively lower level of computer literacy in these subjects. Economists may use computers but they are more interested in economic theory and that subject, through its reward structure, does not encourage a heterogeneity of research methods. Finally we considered work in the field of social statistics, a relative small sub discipline, but one which currently makes much use of visualization techniques. We end our review by considering, again in overview work in data exploration and visualization in general, visualization in teaching and learning in the social sciences, the availability of software and its implications, and weblinks and gateways. We append a link of useful web links as a resource for other researchers.

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