About this Research Topic
People around the world are today increasingly experiencing the world mediated through sophisticated digital interfaces. Concerns have been raised on the implications of this development, in particular linking the increasing levels of polarization, cultural conflicts, and fragmentation to the growth of this digital realm. This suggests a concerted effort at studying the dynamics of cultural conflicts as they are reshaped through digitization. Studying cultural conflicts through digital data is enabled by the recent proliferation of digital data and new computational methods. These bring both new new opportunities and new challenges to study the social world as they introduce new data structures and destabilize established assumptions and epistemologies.
Such is the speed and depth of these developments that a new interdisciplinary field of study – Computational Social Science (CSS) – has emerged to valorize these opportunities. Although CSS is broad and sprawling, its distinctive quality is that it uses advanced computational tools on old and especially new sources of data to identify social patterns and their underlying mechanisms. However, while there is a growing wealth of research within CSS, the field encounters challenges and limitations when engaged in the study of cultural conflicts. Since CSS incorporates methods and notions from the exact sciences into the social sciences, a vexing question is how it might tackle the issues encompassing cultural conflicts that have historically been the provenance of the social sciences and the humanities. How to incorporate the meaning-making processes that are central to cultural life? How to account for power and inequalities? How to account for reflexivity? And how to grasp qualitative change?
The overall goal of this special issue is to examine how the development and application of computational tools reconfigures social science research and, more specifically, the study of cultural conflict. The contributions to the collection come out of the ODYCCEUS research project, a large EU-funded research project, subsidized in the context of the FET Proactive funding scheme. ODYCCEUS brings together scholars in the natural sciences (physicists, computer scientists, mathematicians) and the social sciences and humanities (sociologists, geographers, media scholars) to develop new methods and tools for the study of cultural conflict.
The papers in this collection serve two purposes. First, they showcase the application of computational tools to the study of cultural conflicts. These tools have been developed by the contributors. Several of the tools are incorporated into the Penelope platform, which has been purposefully designed to facilitate the computational analysis of cultural conflicts. Second, they provide a substantive contribution to the understanding of different cultural conflicts within Europe, including the migration crisis, political polarization, the rise of populism and extremism, and anti-Semitism.
Keywords: digital methods, social networks, cultural conflict, meaning-making, computational social science
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