Visualizing Wrongdoing in Engineering Apologia

In Apologetic rhetoric, Visual rhetoric on January 11, 2013 at 1:46 pm

Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner has experienced numerous malfunctions since its release. Those ongoing issues have resulted in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announcing that it will conduct a comprehensive review of the design and assembly of the 787’s main systems. In covering the news of this announcement, The Guardian published an interactive graphic of the 787’s problems.

Interactive visual of 787's problems

Interactive visual of 787’s problems

The situation presents an interesting spotlight into the process of engineering apologia. By apologia, I mean the entire apologetic exchange in which wrongdoing is situated through kategoria and a defense is offered. The idea of a process relates to what Keith Michael Hearit called the “three-act play” or ritual consisting of apologia. The three acts consist of: (1) an act, (2) a charge of wrongdoing, and (3) a defense. A critical element of this three-act play is the idea of guilt. In essence, the charge of wrongdoing is an assertion that an individual or organization has violated “some cherished social value” and, therefore, must purge the guilt of this violation. In other words, guilt must be established. The Guardian’s interactive does just that.

But the establishment of guilt is unique in this case. First, it’s established through a visual that produces helps the audience/bystanders actually visualize the problems better than a list of text ever could. Second, it situates blame through the ethos of a scientific, objective-looking graphic (rather than a subjective-seeming reporter or activist).

Third, and most importantly, it actually establishes the guilt (or the second part of the three-act play) by accumulating the acts (or the first part of the three-act play). By this I mean that the individual acts might easily be overlooked since they occurred over time, or they might easily be dismissed by Boeing as individual, minor, and unrelated issues. The interactive graphic, however, compresses time to display all of the issues at the same time. It does layer numbers over the plane graphic and even provides dates in the text, but impact of seeing all of the problems highlighted simultaneously reduces Boeing’s ability to separate the “acts” and, in doing so, it shapes the charge of wrongdoing.

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