Barton and Barton: Modes of Power in Technical and Professional Visuals

Barton, B. F., & Barton, M. S. (1993). Modes of Power in Technical and Professional Visuals. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 7(1), 138–162. doi:10.1177/1050651993007001007



The Panopticon


Begins with discussion of Bentham''s Panopticon and power. The gaze. Foucault: "the power to dominate rests on the differential possession of knowledge" (139). Sartre: colonialism, white man looked without being looked at (pure Look). Latour extends to visual representations of the look. Asymmetry at the heart of colonialist power. 


Attention to modes of viewing associated with empowerment. Two types of visibility/surveillence: synoptic (small group/ individual viewing the magnitude) and analytic (f/x on the individual inmate).


The Panoptic Modality of Power and Technical Communication


Relevance to TC? Foucault: defining power relations, figure of "political technology" (141). Deleuze: pure theme; dependent on whatever "human multiplicity" must be controlled, enumerated. B&B argue this should be extended to "natural multiplicity" (142). 


The Synoptic Mode of Power


Barthes: power of images to create/impose meaning. Consider the map (citing Marin): "simulacrum that permits me to appropriate in a single look the totality of the Earth" (143). Early work of 19th C engineer Minard using graphs/charts: "is to have the proportions of the numerical results appreciated immediately by the eye, as much as possible" (143).  Playfair dismissive of particulars or exact truths.


The Analytic Mode of Power


Particulars are source of empowerment. Foucault: the analytic power of the table. Tufte: data maps that place millions of bits of info on single page-> "no other method fo the display of statistical information is so powerful" (145).


Tandem Operation of the Synoptic and Analytic Modes


Looks to images of industrial control rooms (such as Three Mile Island). Followed "one-idea-per-visual" design ideal. During TMI meltdown, individual displays went off when synoptic dimension may have remedied. Contrasts with London Underground map (synoptic)-- terms empowernment "illusory" (148); travelers relatively unempowered. 


Related Formulations in the Literature


Bertin''s contrasts of demographic maps: seeing maps (graded set of concrete signs--B&B argue well adapted for either synoptic or analytic) and reading maps (decoding; enable panoptic surveillence). Cites Tufte''s micro/macro principle. References Anderson''s projection of downtown Manhattan: both finely detailed and overall view. Would the layers of Google maps be micro/macro? Potential emptiness of figures/graph images when numbers clearer.


A Conclusion and A Beginning


DeCerteau: the science of the Other. (heterology) not of disciplinary order but of Other. B&B argue "the most compelling research horizon for students of the issue of power and technical and professional visuals" (159).