How to map issues?


Mixing Methods for the Study of Topical Affairs

September 14-15, 2016, MS.05 Zeeman Building

Hosted by the Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies and the ESRC Doctoral Training Centre, University of Warwick.

This workshop will introduce a range of experimental methods for analysing current affairs, public controversies and related topical formations. Through lectures and hands-on workshops, we will explore digital and creative techniques alongside fieldwork-based and creative methodologies.

Workshop Programme

(see below for lecture and workshop abstracts)


9:30 – 10:00 Registration and welcome

10:00-10:20 Introduction: How to map issues – Noortje Marres (University of Warwick)

10:20-11:20 Fieldwork: On ‘Visible Impacts’ – Andrew Barry (University College London)

11:20-11:30 SHORT BREAK

11:30-12:30 Topic modelling: On finding and tracing topics over time – Sophie Mützel (University of Lucerne)

12:30- 13:30 LUNCH

13:30-14:30 Levelling with issues: digging for political matter with social media – Anders Munk (University of Aalborg in Copenhagen)

14:30-14:45 BREAK


Workshops will run in parallel. Participants can self-register on the morning of Wednesday September 14 (more info below).

WORKSHOP 1: Doing large-scale textual analysis research: A peek backstage – Sophie Mützel (University of Lucerne)

WORKSHOP 2: Mapping Zika with Twitter – Anders Munk (University of Aalborg in Copenhagen)

18:00 – Informal Get Together, All welcome Draper’s Bar (Coventry)


9:00-9:30 Registration and welcome

9:30-10:30 Document analysis: The modifying capacity of documents – Kristin Asdal (University of Oslo)

10:30-11:30 ‘Issuefying’ balloons: Inventing methods for the design or capture of issue formations? – Nerea Calvillo (University of Warwick)

11:30-11:45 BREAK

11:45- 12:45 Adjustable digital methods: How to negotiate with your digital instruments – Mathieu Jacomy (Sciences Po, Paris)

12:45-13:45 LUNCH


Workshops will run in parallel. Participants can self-register on the morning of Wednesday September 14 (more info below).

WORKSHOP 3: Adjusting digital methods: Negotiating digital Instruments in practice – Mathieu Jacomy (Sciences Po, Paris)

WORKSHOP 4: Mapping the issues of self-driving cars across media: online, print, paper (tbc) – Noortje Marres and Nerea Calvillo (University of Warwick)


Workshop ends.


Fieldwork: On ‘Visible Impacts’ – Andrew Barry, University College London

Key Reading
Barry A. (2013) Visible Impacts. Extract from Material Politics: Disputes along the Pipeline, Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 116-128.

Topic Modelling: On finding and tracing topics over time – Sophie Mützel, University of Lucerne

Today, much of the social world is mediated by texts. Every day we produce large amounts of digital texts; more and more archival records are available in digital format or can be transformed into that. For social scientists these textual data present new possibilities to understand past and present social dynamics. At the same time, developments in computational linguistics and computer science challenge the privilege of social sciences and humanities to analyze texts and make inferences about the social world. My talk highlights the analytical and methodological challenges and opportunities big textual data pose to the social sciences. I will review current approaches to the tracing of shifts in themes and issues over time, which help to identify changes in the social world underlying it. I highlight a simple model of computational approaches to topic modelling. This is a methodological approach that finds semantically cohesive themes in a collection of documents. It can be used to trace and map issues and topics over time. I will also point to limitations of this approach and review alternatives for social scientists in our quest to study topical formations over time.

Key reading
Blei, David M. 2012. “Probabilistic Topic Models”, in: Communications of the ACM 55: 77-84.

Additional Readings
DiMaggio, Paul/Manish Nag/David Blei. 2013. “Exploiting affinities between topic modeling and the sociological perspective on culture: Application to newspaper coverage of U.S. government arts funding”, in: Poetics 41: 570-606.

Mützel, Sophie. 2015. “Structures of the Tasted: Restaurant Reviews in Berlin Between 1995 and 2012”, in: Ariane Berthoin Antal/ Michael Hutter/ David Stark (eds.) Moments of Valuation: Exploring Sites of Dissonance. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 147-167.

Rule, Alix/Jean-Philippe Cointet/Peter S. Bearman. 2015. “Lexical shifts, substantive changes, and continuity in State of the Union discourse, 1790–2014”, in: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112: 10837-10844.

Document Analysis: The modifying capacity of documents -Kristin Asdal, University of Oslo

It often seems to be taken for granted that there is a conflict or an opposition between a turn to words and a turn to objects or materialities. But paperwork does not simply describe an external reality ‘out there’. Documents also takepart in working upon, modifying, and transforming that reality. Words and ‘the material’ need to be handled simultaneously. Tracing the modifying capacity of documents is crucial if we are to map issues, trace controversies and take nature-objects into account.

Kristin Asdal (2015) What is the issue? The transformative capacity of documents, Distinktion: Journal of Social Theory, 16:1, 74-90,

Lemke, T. 2014. New materialisms: Foucault and the ‘government of things’. Theory, Culture & Society, vol.32 no. 4 3-25

Veyne, P. 1978. Foucault révolutionne l’histoire. In Comment on écrit l’histoire, 383–429. Paris: Seuil.

Levelling with issues: digging for political matter with social media – Anders Munk (University of Aalborg)

Inspired by the Deweyan credo that a competent public is a well-equipped one, a public tooled up to conduct inquiry into its own pressing matters of concern, scholars in STS and digital methods have taken to the web in search of ‘issues’. The mundane quality of online interaction, not least on social media, has an unmistakeable allure for those pursuing proper social inquiry. Perhaps it is here, among the noisy trivialities of the everyday online, that publics find the energy and occasion to hardwire otherwise abstract political discussions into the concrete realities of their situation? This begs questions like: What does an issue look like on social media? How do we (and with us, the inquisitive public?) equip ourselves to level with them? How do we, in other words, survey and engage issues with social media? One major aspect of this endeavour is the need to come to terms with the platform logics that populate social media. This talk will provide three relevant examples drawn from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Twitter data, people’s meeting

Key reading
Marres, N., & Moats, D. (2015). Mapping controversies with social media: The case for symmetry. Social Media+ Society, 1(2), 2056305115604176.

Adjustable digital methods : How to negotiate with your digital instruments – Mathieu Jacomy, Sciences Po, Paris

Studying digital traces implies so many uncertainties that most scholars adopt adjustable methods, aiming for a versatile way to produce findings. However, it can seem that this ideal of adaptability does not extend to digital instruments, which too often stubbornly refuse to unveil the hidden properties of our precious complex data. Our relation with digital instruments is not simple and, to dispel some misunderstandings, I would like to discuss the roles that we should or should not expect them to play in digital research.

Venturini, T., Laffite, N. B., Cointet, J. P., Gray, I., Zabban, V., & De Pryck, K. (2014). Three maps and three misunderstandings: A digital mapping of climate diplomacy. Big Data & Society, 1(2), 2053951714543804.

Rieder, B. (2012). The refraction chamber: Twitter as sphere and network. First Monday, 17(11).

‘Issuefying’ balloons: inventing methods for the design or capture of issue formations? – Nerea Calvillo, University of Warwick

This paper explores the possibilities of ‘issuefying’ an object through design and construction practices, by discussing an exhibition-design project developed in 2015 for a music festival in Murcia (Spain). Questioning notions of variability and distribution of issues across settings, I ask: Can the emergence of issues be designed? Which methods make it possible to establish which issues have emerged? Do they need to be made explicit for the research to be legitimate?

Key Readings
Lury, C., & Wakeford, N. (2012). Introduction: A perpetual inventory. In: Inventive Methods: The Happening of the Social. London and New York: Routledge.

Marres, N. (2014) The environmental teapot and other loaded household objects. Objects and materials: A Routledge companion, P. Harvey, D. Hicks et al (Eds), London and New York: Routledge.


WORKSHOP 1: Doing large scale textual analysis research: a peek backstage – Sophie Mützel, University of Lucerne

In this workshop we will visit the backstage of textual analysis research to gain insights into the challenges and decisions involved doing such research. The workshop will touch upon concrete issues of data acquisition and data cleaning; it will also point to some tools for analysis and data visualisation. In general, this workshop is intended as a peek backstage, with candid talk about pitfalls as well as opportunities. Please bring your own laptop.

Ignatow, Gabe/Rada Mihalcea. 2016. Text Mining: A Guidebook for the Social Sciences. London: Sage.

Evans, James A./Pedro Aceves. 2016. “Machine Translation: Mining Text for Social Theory”, in: Annual Review of Sociology 42: 21-50.

WORKSHOP 2: Mapping Zika with Twitter

In this workshop we will work in an open format with a Twitter set in TCAT on the Zika outbreak. The challenge will be to devise methods for identifying issues.

Key Reading

WORKSHOP 3: Adjusting digital methods: negotiating digital Instruments in practice – Mathieu Jacomy (Sciences Po, Paris)

In this open workhop, applicants bring their own data and research questions to discuss which tools and methods for issue mapping are the best fit. Depending on the applicants’ needs, it may include network visualization with Gephi (my speciality), web crawling with Hyphe and data cleaning with Open Refine, as well as various tinkering tools. The workshop will include practical manipulations as well as a discussion about data circulation inside this ecosytem of tools. Please bring your own laptop.

Readings and Materials
Visual networks analysis

ForceAtlas2, a Continuous Graph Layout Algorithm for Handy Network Visualization Designed for the Gephi Software

WORKSHOP 4: Using issue maps as elicitation devices: online, print, paper – Noortje Marres and Nerea Calvillo (University of Warwick)

Issue maps can be used as so-called devices of elicitation (Lezaun and Soneryd, 2007): presenting concerns visually offers a way to elicit views, inviting actors to account for issue formations. In this workshop, participants will work with a specific data set, one that traces recent debates about self-driving cars, in order to test the capacities of various issue mapping designs in this regard: online, print and paper.

Driverless workshop infosheet
Twitter data, “driverless”, June 10-September 11 (2016), collected with T-CAT.

Marres, N. (2015). Why map issues? On controversy analysis as a digital method. Science, technology & human values, 40(5), 655-686.

Mauri, Michele, and Paolo Ciuccarellia. “Designing diagrams for social issues.” Design Research Society, Bighton, June 2016.