Tom’s week in Aberdeen

Posted by Tom

In February I had the pleasure of visiting the University of Aberdeen to spend a week with Dr Karen Salt, a co-investigator on the CuRAtOR project. The aim of the week was to get to grips with Critical Discourse Analysis, an approach to studying discourse which is concerned with power relationships and social practices and is deeply entwined with politics. On the CuRAtOR project we are interested in this approach as a way of understanding social movements, the ways in which people and places are talked about, and the mechanisms of creating and spreading fear and Othering through discourse. Getting up to speed with the literature was great, as it allowed me to sit around in cafes reading Foucault and Marx and feeling very scholarly, as above.

Karen and I spent the week looking over a dataset that was collected as part of a previous study into the discourse of Twitter users in relation to the TV show Benefits Street (In proc. CHI 2015 – Debating poverty porn on Twitter). The dataset of ~300,000 tweets was collected over two weeks whilst Benefits Street was being aired in January 2013, and consisted of all tweets using #BenefitsStreet. Within this data we found an example of an activist creating a website to counter the claims of the Benefits Street TV show, and then using social media to push the conversation on Twitter.

Through the course of the week, powered by haggis for breakfast (delicious!), we were then able to follow the conversation through the Twitter dataset, and carry out social network analysis to understand who was sharing and driving the conversation, and try to understand why. This was then tied together by understanding the power relationships between the different entities, and identifying key shifts in the form of the discussion. As you can imagine this is a fairly large undertaking, and it is work that I’ve continued on my return to Lincoln, and we are hoping to publish the study in the near future.

The week culminated in presenting a short overview of the CuRAtOR project along with the initial findings of the weeks work to the folks at dot.rural, who were a very welcoming! I was blessed to have blue skies every day whilst in Aberdeen, and throughout the week I was able to be completely immersed in literature around power, linguistics and politics – great fun!

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