by Felix Gumbert

B3 presentations at the Congress of the German Sociological Association

The 41st Congress of the German Sociological Association was held at Bielefeld University, between September 26 and 30 under the guiding theme „polarized worlds“. The B3-project was represented by three presentations of its members in two different panels.

In his talk, „Methods for Analyzing Conflict in Threaded Online Conversations: The first presidential debate of the 2020 US election on Twitter“, Felix Gumbert highlighted shortcomings of current empirical research on Twitter regarding segregation and political polarization. Prominent approaches mostly rely on hashtag or keyword-based samples, which leaves a fundamental aspect of social media unattended: the possibility for users to interact reciprocally, which in the case of Twitter means via direct replies. For the creation of the presidential debate data set, the VOSON Lab and CITEC teams therefore made use of Twitters conversation ID to collect full conversation networks, i.e., an original tweet and all replies (and replies to replies) reconstructed as a tree structure. Instead of focusing on isolated tweets as most existing research, the reconstruction of threaded conversations allows us to analyze reciprocal discussions between users in their sequential order as well as the emergence of conflicts as a series of disagreements.

Building on the work described by Felix Gumbert, Florian Muhle and Ole Pütz discussed in their talk, „Wechselseitige Anpassung auf theoretischer, methodischer und praktischer Ebene: die Herstellung eines gemeinsamen Datensatzes im Zusammenspiel von Qualitativer Forschung und Computational Social Science“, that existing research often lacks a theoretically sound understanding of conversations as reciprocal communication, often treating any activity on Twitter as conversation (whether it is original tweets, retweets, quotes, or replies). With conversations defined as replies and replies to replies, the 3B thus goes beyond the current state of the art both methodologically and theoretically.

Ole and Florian highlighted that such interdisciplinary research that goes beyond the state of the art of each discipline alone requires more time and resources than research that remains within disciplinary boundaries. On the one hand, interdisciplinary research requires a theoretical and conceptual grounding that cannot be fixed at the project’s beginning but must be maintained through continuous discussions; as new methodological questions arise and analytical insights are gained, theoretical concepts also need to be refined. On the other hand, such interdisciplinary research allows access to phenomena that would be otherwise out of reach both empirically (from the perspective of qualitative sociology) and conceptually (from the perspective of computational social science).