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Religion and Political Theory: Secularism, Accommodation and The New Challenges of Religious Diversity, Edited by Jonathan Seglow and Andrew Shorten

Policy Controversies: the Contribution of the Visual to Open Up or Close Down Debates

Public Policy
Efrat Gommeh
Wageningen University and Research Center
Efrat Gommeh
Wageningen University and Research Center
Tamara Metze
Wageningen University and Research Center

The visual dimensions of policy and science controversies are often overlooked; visuals are packaged facts and norms, they cross language barriers, travel easily, and have rhetorical power that may influence the dynamics of a policy controversy . In policy controversies over technological issues, where much uncertainty is involved, visuals have the potential to play a central role in the debate.

In this paper, we will demonstrate based on a visual analysis of shale gas controversies that these visualisations (1) are multi-interpretable, negotiated and adapted (2) contain layers of information about the controversy, and indicate sub- controversies on knowledge and norms (3) that visualisations may become passage-points at which debates/dominant discourse can be closed down or opened up. The results of the analysis of visuals on shale gas published on internet by actors in four countries (UK, the Netherlands, New York State (USA), and the Karoo (South Africa) - indicate that referential type of visuals (that seem to distribute information) are in a majority and used both by opponents and proponents either to promote dominant meanings and come to closure, or to contest the dominant discourse and open up debates. The condensation visuals - that aim to stir emotions and more openly convey normative messages - are used incidentally but with more impact in opening up dominant discourses on shale gas.
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