Dimitrij MLEKUŽ
(Institute for the protection of cultural heritage of Slovenia, Ljubljana, Slovenia)

Keywords: knowledge, visualization, representations, archaeology, heritage

We address the role of archaeological visualizations in knowledge production using the actor-network theory. Visualizations are complex inscriptions designed to stabilize and consolidate knowledge. Visualizations can shed light on open questions, help us develop arguments and offer new interpretations. Visualizations thus become actants in the process of knowledge production and can be mobilized to significantly support interpretations. The assemblage that produces a visualization (including people, tools, machines), the visualization itself, the number of inscriptions mobilized into a visualization, parallels, generalizations, discussions, the line of reasoning etc. are in a constant process of interaction and mutually constitute each other, aligning themselves along the general arguments and ideas of the visualization, making new alignments and changing the direction of interpretation. Through this process, new knowledge and insights is gained. Visualization is therefore not the product or reflection of knowledge, but is made during the process and becomes fixed and stable through this process.. When completed, visualization looks like a coherent, solid entity, a black box. If opened, visualization reveals itself as a heterogeneous network of different actants. The line dividing “data ” and “interpretation”, “familiar” and “new”, “fact” and “hypothesis” becomes blurred and irrelevant. Visualizations are carriers of complex knowledge, communicating this knowledge using the visual language. This makes them very suitable tools for communicating complex knowledge to the wider public. Visualizations can thus be conceptualized as “boundary objects”, carriers of different meanings in different social contexts, but simultaneously maintaining a sufficiently coherent structure to be recognizable across different communities. But therein lies the danger: the visual sophistication of the visualization can be a mere facade of empty or misleading content. These “hyperreal” images do not communicate ideas, but serve only to make the past more inspiring, beautiful or interesting than it really was, in short, they are pure ideology.

Relevance for the conference: Paper brings strong theoretical approach to the visualisation of heritage.
Relevance for the session: Paper brings theoretically informed critique of image-based representation of archaeological heritage.
Innovation: Paper approaches visualisations using actor-network theory and science and technology studies and discusses their role in the knowledge production.

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