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In this digital ethnography, form meets function

Simply put, an ethnographic account of structural violence demands visualization. Structural violence is enabled by its invisibility- it is invisible because society’s frameworks were constructed in order to support it. Many aspects of society that we as outsiders observe as “ever present” or “naturally occurring” with the existence of society were actually created to support some while hindering others.

Therefore, in order to draw attention to the aspects and relationships of society that are violent to some while supportive of others, a “concreteness” needs to be rendered from an abstraction. The Side Unseen is my response to this need to make hidden structures visible. This can be accomplished through ethnographic data visualization, which is data visualization that is contextualized through interlocutors’ narratives. This form of visualization does not accept data as concrete fact but a social creation that can be expanded on and questioned by stories and narratives.

The Side Unseen will introduce:

Roz, a Kensington community anti-gun violence and pro- harm reduction activist,

Rachel, a Philadelphia mother advocating for societal acknowledgment that lead poisoning can occur via soil,

Pat, who has first-hand knowledge and experience observing the changes (and absences) present in the Philadelphia medical system,

Nikki, a COVID19 testing site coordinator for one of Philadelphia’s first “in-the-field” locations, and

*Linda, who shares her current and childhood perspectives of the health epidemics present in the Kensington neighborhood (name altered for privacy).

The structure of this senior thesis (created to function as an interactive website), the stories present in it, and the data that is visualized aim to articulate that while structural violence is ever-present in the history, experiences, and relationships of Philadelphia, it cannot be articulated in a “linear” fashion. The relationships which constitute structural violence connect individual actors, oftentimes without their knowledge: while every individual’s narrative or story is their own, structural violence functions as an “umbrella” encompassing all of them. The only way to organize the complex and dynamic stories of the residents of Philadelphia is through a website- one which offers many routes of exploration, so that each reader can have an unique experience, interacting with the layers of data and stories present.

The Gantt chart above, which functions as the webpage’s main menu of navigation, visually depicts this overlap of resident narratives. An example of this occurs in the temporal overlap of Pat’s narrative with other societal shifts. The Gantt chart visualizes how the Philadelphia highway system was created during Pat’s father’s medical career at the Stetson Hospital; this overlap suggests further complexity to the data and narrative discussed in those individual sections, as society’s perception of medical care was changing while movement patterns were altered.

An annotated table of contents to help engage with this website

This thesis aims to explore how collaborative, ethnographic forms of urban health data visualization differ from traditional methods of urban health data visualization. Collaborative forms, especially ethnographic data visualization, proclaim that data is a social construction and is bound by subjectivity, rather than promoting it as an all-encompassing truth that traditional methods tend to achieve. Through this methodology, we hope to dissolve the invisible nature of structural violence by revealing how it functions and affects the lives of urban Philadelphia residents.  

This website will explain how looking at Philadelphia resident narratives in combination with ethnographic data visualization can reveal the invisible hands of structural violence; this has not been observed or acknowledged by greater society, yet is significant because structural violence has drastic implications for the health of individuals.

This website is an example of multimodal ethnography, assembled from ethnographic data visualization and interviews (represented in text, video, and audio). Please click here to download the paper that accompanies this website, which outlines this website as an anthropological methodology. 

While I recommend experiencing the project through a framework of complexity (start somewhere and see where you end up!), here are some key features and quick navigation links.

Introducing the Invisible Hands of Structural Violence will complicate not only how we define the word violence, but also will question our linear view of the world. Specifically, it will address how simplification of relationships, rather than addressing complexity, inherently ignores the humanity and history that construct stories.

Socially Ingrained Violence addresses how the historical narrative of the neighborhoods and the city of Philadelphia have continually compounded the structural violence seen in present day populations. 

Health as a Commodity will explore how our society’s neoliberal market view is currently impacting community health; neoliberalism is a factor of structural violence that ensures that health is a product to be purchased, rather than an essential human right. Stories of the current COVID19 pandemic in Philadelphia are told through this framework.

Mama Sunshine details Roz Pischard’s personal narrative and how her story intersects with structural violence manifesting in Philadelphia. Her story will address societal notions of health and will discuss why she is motivated to view the Kensington neighborhood in a specific manner.

Can We Get the Lead Out? addresses the complex relationship between environmental toxicity and resident health; this section details Rachel’s narrative. She is a mother who has engaged in activism regarding the historical lead legacy of Philadelphia in response to its impact on her children’s health. 

An Alternative Narrative functions as this website’s “epilogue.” It discusses what the future of Philadelphia could look like, visually and through storytelling, if society was able to reconstruct itself without neoliberalism and the workings of structural violence. It will address what our world would look like; what would change, and what would remain the same (if anything).

The Toolkit section presents some basic ethnographic data visualization engagement strategies, an introduction to the projects’ context, and sources for the reader:

About Ethnographic Data Visualization outlines strategies, as suggested by ethnographic data visualization, as to how you, the reader, can effectively engage with data visualization. It will provide some examples, based in the context of Philadelphia, to promote your understanding. This section will explicitly address the idea of categories in data analysis, how data can promote our understanding of and contextualization of space, and how we can check our expectations of “difference” when viewing visualizations.

The Dictionary is a data visualization in itself: the goal of this section is to address the need to rethink how our language and definitions function, and how they serve to frame our world. The dictionary will provide definitions to key words used in the website, in addition to examples of specific contexts as to how they will be applied.

Resources provides annotations for useful, contextualized information specific to Philadelphia residents. It also includes a downloadable, PDF version of my methodology paper that accompanies this website. This paper provides an argument for why multimodal ethnography, such as this website, is valuable to furthering the anthropological discipline, in pandemic times and in general.

About The Side Unseen name and website image

This website’s title, The Side Unseen, refers to the narratives of individuals suffering from structural violence: they represent a side of society that is “erased” or unseen by society (Farmer 2004). This “lack of sight” is intentional, rather than passive. The stories present on this website actively work against this absence by showing my interlocutors’ perspectives. Additionally, the website logo or image was created to act as an artistic representation of the layering effect of data, structural violence, society, and stories. The warping effect on the Philadelphia county outline is symbolic of messy relationships and against the notion of “straight” graph lines. It reinforces the website design by visually implying that things are more complicated than they appear. We should look for complexity rather than simplifying lived experiences.

To the reader, before you begin

Take a moment to acknowledge how we, as social actors, have acquired previous knowledge about Philadelphia, and its neighborhoods. Please reflect on the source of this information, the manner in which it was transmitted, and how you personally evaluated it. Most importantly, pause and consider how these stories/data/media are socially distributed.

Post your thoughts below as a comment if you wish. This exercise provides a first step in acknowledging that as humans, we have a subjective view of the world; this thesis may present the world in a possibly altered perspective than your own. 

Thank you.