Thanks to all who offered their help in reply to my last post about visualizing typological data. Most of you agreed that the recent hype about visualization and infographics almost completely neglects qualitative small-n data in favour of quantitative large-n sets. There are various reasons for this state of affairs: for one, much of this hype is driven by the fact that large government statistics are being put in the public domain (or by the availability of equally large private statistics generated through web 2.0). Secondly, small-n data lends itself nicely to narrative writing, rendering visualization a less pressing requirement. Lastly, such qualitative data tends to be far more complex than statistics, and its complexity can not easily be reduced through statistical generalization.

Reducing the complexity of small-n data is not impossible, however - and usually takes the form of typologies. The need to visualize these, and particularly to visualize them in an interactive way, arises from the fact that such typologies often suggest a rigidity which is never there in the data (as I wrote here). The reason for this deception is basically that the underlying cluster analyses - be they statistically aided or intuitive - always generate an x-fold typology if you ask them to so - even if the dissimilarities between types are marginal in comparison to their similarities. The irreducability of original data behind typologies is therefore what I would love to visualize, to give readers of my upcoming book1 a hands-on feeling for the flexibility of the typology of Muslim peace activists which I propose therein.

This blog post is a call for help: I need beta-testers, and bright minds, to help me realize my latest project. Anybody with experience in Gephi, Sankey diagrams and web design more broadly: please drop me a line!

What is this all about? Basically, I am in the process of finally publishing a book from my Gujarat project. The empirical core of this project was a typology of "Being Muslim and working for peace", comprising of faith-based actors, secular technocrats, emancipating women, and doubting professionals. Each kind of activist struggles with the ambivalence and ambiguity of the sacred in their own ways, and combine belief, belonging and behaviour differently. Throughout, my research was guided by the conviction that

Man’s behaviour in this world of men is not random. It follows certain rules which, while they are like everything human, historical and thus subject to change, acquire a life of their own. [...] The official behind the counter and the citizen before it are in a sense not unique personalities, but personae, masks, they are playing parts, roles. All the world’s a stage, or – more precisely, if less graciously put – the crystallization of rules into roles is the basic fact of society and thus of social science.1