Sem.Permanente: Michele Martini - Does Discourse Matter in Social Research?

Thursday, 23 November 2023 
3-5 pm 
Aula Ovale Dipartimento di Scienze Sociali, Vico Monte di Pietà 1, Napoli
Title: Does Discourse Matter in Social Research? Text Mining and Semantic Network Analysis for the Critical Investigation of Texts
Speaker:  Michele Martini, Università della Svizzera Italiana
Does discourse matter in social research? And if so, how can the study of discourse help social scientists to trace and understand social transformations? This seminar will discuss how discourse, broadly defined as any process by which humans produce meaning, can be analysed as a social fact and, perhaps more importantly, how this can be done empirically. Form social media content to policy documents or religious sermons, approaching discourse as social fact means to investigate it as both an agent and a result of the reproduction of power structures. It means to look at language as a socially-situated phenomenon: to investigate the semiotic conditions that make social events possible and, at the same time, to identify the non-semiotic conditions that underpin the emergence of discourses.
Starting from these premises, the seminar will be divided into three sections. Firstly, I will present the theoretical framework and the tools necessary to operationalize text mining and semantic network analysis for the empirical investigation of texts. Secondly, I will present a case stu
dy and show how this new methodology is able to empirically trace significant and otherwise hidden discursive transformations. Finally, in the third section, I will employ a series of examples to show how this method can be used to (1) compare the semantic structure of different texts, (2) trace discursive shifts in the course of time and (3) correlate these shifts with different sets of data, such as political events or economic transformations. 
To demonstrate the analytical possibilities offered by this method, the central part of the seminar will be devoted to investigating a concealed and yet radical shift in the global politics of education. In 2014, the OECD approved the incorporation of a set of global competence measures to its Programme of Student Assessment (PISA). To frame the concept of "global competences", two documents were released: Global Competency for an Inclusive World (OECD, 2016) and Preparing Our Youth for a Sustainable and Inclusive World (OECD, 2018). However, the 2016 document was later withdrawn form public readership with no explanation. In a nutshell, it disappeared. Through Text Mining and Semantic Network Analysis, I will show a dramatic change of approach between the two documents, and specifically that (a) the concept of "global competence" is radically redefined through the simplification and polarization of the semantic universe surrounding it, (b) that the concept "global" becomes a shifting signifier which enables the establishment of a functional equivalence between the two studied documents, and that (c) in this process, concepts such as "culture", which were proposed as a solution by the OECD in its 2016 text to deal with rising social inequalities, differences and intolerances, are now erased in the 2018 text.
Michele Martini is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Faculty of Communication, Culture and Society of USI, Università della Svizzera Italiana. Within the field of computational social science and text mining, his research is primarily focused on the development of innovative methods for the critical and comparative analysis of unstructured datasets. Michele Martini has conducted studies on digital media, education and globalization in Ex-Yugoslavia, Israel, Occupied Palestinian Territories, Brazil, Italy, and the United Kingdom.