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Executive Summary

Overview Report

Main Report


  Social Stats


Bibliographic History

Review of Visualization in the Social Sciences: Main Report

Politics, Economics and Sociology

Despite being central to the social sciences, politics, economics and sociology appear to use very little of the cutting edge visualization technology available. In political science research, for instance, traditional graphical displays are commonplace (e.g. Petrocik, 1996; Gelman & King, 1993; Weisberg & Smith, 1993; Shugart, 1992), but the use of new technologies such as VR, computer simulations and multimedia remains unexplored. One of the few exceptions include the investigation of the political power of the media, and particularly television, in constructing and influencing global events (Luke & O'Tuathail, 1997). A similar situation occurs in economics, which traditionally uses graphical frameworks in the analysis and presentation of its research (e.g. Haneveld & Teunter, 1998; Davidson & MacKinnon, 1998). Notable exceptions to these standard graphical outputs include the visual representation of the structures of world trade between twenty-eight OECD countries between 1981 and 1992 [65]. The size of the links represents the volume of trade between any two countries, whilst colours give the regional membership in different trade organisations (Figure 9). In addition, research suggests that the recent advances in statistical graphics are be being used to investigate the increasing richness of econometric data (e.g. Jenkins & Lambert, 1997; Unwin, 1996; Koschat & Swayne, 1996).

Figure 9
Figure 9

Sociology, in comparison to politics and economics, appears to have made greater use of computer visualization. The study by Feinberg & Johnson (1995), for example, used computer simulations to model the response to a fire alarm, graphically presenting the status of individuals and couples in a room as they initiated the evacuation. Another innovative use of computer graphics in sociology is the visualization of social networks (e.g. Schwendinger & Schwendinger, 1997). The most comprehensive examples of this type of research can be found at the network visualization website [65]. The aim of this work is to develop aesthetically pleasing computer visualization procedures to obtain insights into what are usually complex phenomena.

Figure 10
Figure 10

Examples include visualising vistors' paths at Duisburg Zoo in Germany (Figure 10), which leads to interesting insights into visitor behaviour. Starting at the main entrance (lower right) there is a large circle on the left, with very few central places in between, where visitors switch directions. The most centralarea is around the Kodiakbears (Kola bears), which is the main link to a smaller circle (upper right). The area around this smaller circle is much smaller, because the presence of an autobahn has resulted in locations here being more tightly packed together. Generally though, visualization in sociological research tends to be represented by traditional graphical displays using standard software packages such as S-Plus (e.g. Schulman, 1995), Mathematica (e.g. Stine, 1995) and Lisp-Stat (e.g. Tierney, 1995).

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