Within Context: Exploring Visualization and Qualitative Research
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The literature of visualization exhibits more focus on quantitative forms of data and analysis and the literature of qualitative research has few works that study and structure the relationship between visualizations and qualitative data. This thesis inquires: how can we reason about what is qualitative in visualizations? We explore this question through three approaches. First, this thesis examines and refutes the positioning of qualitative-ness as opposite of quantitative-ness in visualization. Second, this thesis studies and organizes the “multiplicity of engagements” (Cope and Elwood, 2009) between visualizations and the literature of qualitative research. Third, the thesis presents the findings from a series of qualitative interviews which explored how researchers use visualizations in the process of qualitative data analysis. Our findings in this thesis suggest that, when approached qualitatively, a visualization is strongly embedded in the context that is represents. A visualization provides an abstract view of some context and it is read, understood, and synthesized within that context.