Can we visually represent theory?

Is it possible to visually represent theory? This is the core question addressed by a potential project which I began discussing with a couple of people today. My starting point for the question is this video:

The video takes something unitary (a song produced through live looping) and visually deconstructs it, with each of the Beardyman fragments constituting one component of the overall product. But what I really like about this video is that it doesn’t stop there. It illustrates the production of these components (by Beardyman himself), their arrangement through his productive activity and the manner in which the ensuing relations constitute the piece itself.

It shows how something whole acquires its character through the specific interrelation of its parts over time. In this sense I think it visually represents theory. But it represents theory at its most atomistic. It represents an answer to the question “what is X?”. So how do we go further than this? The video artist and Beardyman describe this video as “visually explaining” how live looping works. Can we visually explain how other things work?

2 responses to “Can we visually represent theory?”

  1. There are many attempts to do so, not only Beardyman’s deconstruction of his own particular sounds. Consider this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4vHnM8WPvU . I use this video to teach about paradigms in social science; but like the wonderful illustrations of lectures provided by RSAnimate, these are simply illustrative, not performative. And even to reach this requires substantial expertise and resources which do not always correspond with the abilities of everyone trying to explain a concept. My colleagues have done excellent work in engaging research participants and students with abstract theoretical ideas through collaborative performance in conjunction with the local theatre (see http://www.keele.ac.uk/volunteeringstories/ ). I think yours is a fabulous project, but don’t forget the underlying assumptions about the organisation and skills behind such projects.

  2. Thanks Laura, I love Prickes and Goo – we posted it on Sociological Imagination ages ago but I’d forgotten all about it. Your project looks fantastic, I look forward to having a proper watch of the videos later in the week. I don’t understand what you mean about the assumptions though – could you clarify? Calling what I’m doing a ‘project’ at this stage is premature of me, it’s basically just an idea and a commitment to developing it further.

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