Journal Article

The conventions and politics of migration data visualizations

Published 8 June 2021 / By William Allen

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What visual features characterize online migration data visualizations, and what do they suggest for the politics of representing migration and informing public attitudes? Audiences increasingly encounter quantitative information through visualization, especially in digital environments. Yet visualizations have political dimensions that manifest themselves through “conventions,” or shared symbols and practices conveying meaning. Using content analysis, I identify patterns of representation in a sample of 277 migration data visualizations scraped from Google Images. I find evidence of several conventions including appeals to objectivity and traceability as well as perspectives and units of analysis centered on states—particularly higher income migrant destinations. Then, by locating my analysis within the growing field of digital migration studies, I argue these conventions potentially shape public attitudes and understandings about migrants, and contribute to broader migration politics involving categorization and quantification that have relevance both on- and off-line.


Allen W. L. (2021) The conventions and politics of migration data visualizations, New Media & Society; doi:10.1177/14614448211019300