In much of his work, linguist and social semiotician van Leewen (2004) speaks to the importance of visual literacy as the new literacy society (and individuals) will need to address in the professional context. He says “visual communication is coming to be less and less the domain of specialists, and more and more crucial in the domains of public communication.” Unfortunately, he argues the current education system does little to improve this. [Compare the amount of drawing you did in 1st grade vs. 12th… get it?] He goes so far as to say that “not being ‘visually literate’ will begin to attract social sanctions… will begin to be a matter of survival, especially in the workplace” (3).
Luckily, some advocacy and social justice organizations are ahead of the curve by keeping their graphics as stimulating as the text in their research publications.
One of the benefits of using visual representations is that the message is received in such an instantaneous way. [For the sociolinguists reading right now, van Leeuwen calls them image acts: speech acts + images that are realized as a single syntagmatic unit]. For many social justice organizations (and non-profits in general) resources are low. Investing in good graphics can mean the difference between reaching 0 and 1000 people. Or more!
A local DC group called Save Our Safety Net
is great when it comes to using visuals and props in their organizing, with some clear influence of the practices behind radical puppet theater. Anyway, you can click here
for a taste, around minute 1:25, if you wonder what that looks like inside the chambers of DC City Council during budget season.
They also happen to have made huge gains this year in advocating for the restoration of the social service budget that was about to be hacked away. Coincidence? I think a lot of the success they’ve had in building grassroots support stems from (at least partially) their ability to make speaking truth to power a fun, creative, and ultimately engaging endeavor as well.
[UPDATE: After a little more research I’ve learned that they have a name: Infographics. Check out this article here
by the New Organizing Institute to find out more about how to make infographics work for your cause. In it they recommend Visual.ly
, a community platform for making data visualizations and infographics based on data from Twitter and Facebook. Free and new, user-friendly way to represent data? I like it.]