Navigating the visualization of language and identity in Norway
Since my last blog, I’ve ruminated upon the overall purpose of my CHI project; it first shall serve as the digital component to my Master’s thesis, and it second shall serve as that culmination of my background in history, information technology, and anthropology. But even more important, this project serves to digitally represent a somewhat abstract idea, that of the connections between language and identity, and to extend the examination of these relationships beyond text.
In these last few weeks, my project has been molded and shaped to fit this narrative that explores the connections between language and identity, and serves to answer questions regarding how language has become a marker for identity in Norway, and how these identities are expresses in forms of narrative, from literature to music lyrics to comics to art. This project aims to use forms of narrative to tell a narrative of language and identity, and what this means for the multicultural society of Norway – how, over time, the connections between political and cultural machinations have had a profound affect upon language in Norway, and how language has manifested as a marker for Norwegianness. In addition, I want to tell the story of how notions of homogeneity are challenged through language in Norway, and how identity in Norway is expressed in terms of the relationship of these different communities to the Norwegian language. This project aims to help reassert awareness of the importance of Norwegian language identities by providing a timeline of access to their literature and see, through examples of their literature, why language is a hugely important concept in identity formation. Some questions that have churned in my head include:
- How is literature used to address and express issues of language identity in Norway?
- How can a digital platform negotiate boundaries and barriers of language use and identity in ways another medium is perhaps limiting?
- How can we use a digital map or timeline to show flexibility in language use boundaries in ways that acknowledge the complexities of creating boundaries of language use and identity? How are these complexities challenging assertions of homogeneity?
- How can a digital platform be used to acknowledge perspectives and boundaries, such as those in a cultural, political, or colonial context, while still providing an answer to the question of how literature, through time, has contributed to a Norwegian national identity through language?
These types of musings become important for scholars to examine in the age where words become extremely powerful tools to express ideology, especially in the media, and in the case of national identity, expressive of what it means to be a part of that identity and whether or not your personhood reflects that ideology and identity.
The next step in this process of forming a digital project of a seemingly abstract idea is visualization. I must admit, my first step in this process was to create the tool, of which I felt I had a better handle, and adapt my story to the tool. However, in reviewing this process, I’ve now realized the importance of making your narrative the prime component of the project FIRST, and let the tools fall where they may. Tools for digital visualization are abundant in this day of open-source material; I believe that, given a good sense of creativity, storyboarding, and a lot of examination of the tools out there, you can create any perfect visualization to tell your narrative in a way that both conveys your argument clearly, while also generating a useful and exciting user experience design. If you create your visualization first, you run into the danger of limiting the bounds of your narrative, and what arguments you want to convey. Once I made it through this hurdle and really formed (for the most part) that narrative, I began that journey: how do you visualize the connections between language and identity in Norway?
In Wendy Hsu’s 4-part blog series On Digital Ethnography, available on the website Ethnography Matters, she explores the relationships between extending ethnographic research beyond text and into the digital world. A key component of this series is to consider the role and form of the digital medium as ethnographic knowledge itself. In particular, Part 4 considers the power of moving beyond print medium as a means for conveying ethnographic knowledge. In particular, she says
“If we open up the definition of ethnography beyond text and print, then we can start to envision a media enriched, performative, and collaborative space for ethnographers to convey what they have encountered, experienced, and postulated. Utilizing the affordances of digital media, ethnographic knowledge can be stored, expressed, and shared in ways beyond a single medium, direction, and user.” (Hsu, Ethnography Matters).
Again, it’s about keeping the narrative in focus, and molding those tools to best express your narrative to your end-users. In particular, she discusses the digital medium as a multi-sensory and multi-dimensional experience, including not only video, audio, text, but also through space and time. The assertion of placing a project within a spatial or temporal context to construct stronger arguments and provide essential information is not new to academic scholarly work, but in the realm of digitization, we find a new power in our ability to tangibly visualize this spatial or temporal context for a better user experience.
My next step in this project is to further ponder the different tools and visualization platforms that will best convey my narrative of the relationships between language and identity in Norway. I foresee a temporal aspect to this project, so utilizing Timeline.js might prove useful. Is there a spatial component? Possibly, since much of Norway’s language history is also tied to terrain, historical territorial disputes, and positionality of different communities. An ethnographic archive of different examples of Norwegian narrative searchable through space and time? It’s time to dive into the repositories and find out.
Hsu, Wendy. 2013 Ethnography Beyond Text and Print: How the digital can transform ethnographic expressions. http://ethnographymatters.net/blog/2013/12/09/ethnography-beyond-text-and-print-how-the-digital-can-transform-ethnographic-expressions/