Yannis Theocharis (University of Bremen) and I will be editing a special issue of Political Communication focusing on Computational Political Communication: Theory, Applications, and Interdisciplinary Challenges. Our goal is to offer a forum for work that illustrates the potential of computational methods and large data sets in political communication research.
Computational Political Communication: Theory, Applications, and Interdisciplinary Challenges
Digital communication has opened up completely new avenues for social and political interactions that have radical effects on political information environments and the democratic attitudes and behaviors they shape. It has also helped advance the analytical toolkit available to communication scholars, with new data and methodological approaches, often labeled Computational Communication Science (CCS). The goal of this Special Issue (SI) is to foreground the theoretical, empirical, and institutional opportunities and challenges of CCS that are relevant to the political communication community. We focus on research that develops, synthesizes and applies data collection and analysis techniques relying primarily on computational methods and tools, with the objective to answer substantive theory-driven questions in the field of political communication. Despite its vast potential, as of yet CCS has only had marginal impact on core tenets in the field of political communication: CCS research is still pursued by a small minority of political communication researchers, it is heavily undertheorized, its capacities to reveal novel aspects of political communication processes are often misunderstood, it remains largely descriptive or can sometimes showcase methodological rigor at the expense of well-defined theoretical mechanisms, and its highly interdisciplinary nature makes it institutionally cumbersome. With this SI, we plan to map the potential of CCS for the political communication community and demonstrate its broad appeal beyond that of highly technically skilled researchers, focusing on approaches and perspectives that not only demonstrate its methodological innovation but, most importantly, illustrate its theoretical, practical, and institutional relevance, as well as challenges in realizing its potential.
Call for Contributions
This is an open call for contributions. The SI is driven by the urgency of identifying potentials, challenges, and limitations of CCS openly within political communication. The SI is explicitly not just about the application of computational methods. Instead, we seek contributions that will tackle head-on the theoretical, practical, interdisciplinary, and institutional consequences of CCS, and demonstrate its broader relevance for political communication research. The SI will accept three types of contributions that speak to the issues raised above:
- Theory: Many of the objections raised about the potentials and problems of so-called “big data” research in other social science fields – especially regarding the theoretical richness (or vacuum) of such approaches – have been transferred intact to CCS. Answers are still pending regarding the following important questions: What is the role of theory in CCS? What existing theoretical problems in political communication does CCS help us solve and what theories can it help us advance? What are the trade-offs and the main ethical questions to be addressed?
- Applications: While a number of inspiring studies have shed light on how computational approaches can be used to understand the effects of, for example, selective and incidental exposure, these endeavors have often been driven by pressing political phenomena or developments in the field of political communication, and have largely focused on the United States (polarization and “fake news” are perhaps the most prominent examples). We seek theory-driven studies that address major questions in political communication and demonstrate how CCS can help us better understand political communication processes related, but not limited, to: (multi)platform dynamics and biases, campaign effects, news consumption, mobilization, disinformation, gender dynamics in political communication, the emergence and proliferation of counter-cultures and their impact on public discourse.
- Institutional and interdisciplinary challenges: By definition CCS brings a strong interdisciplinary component that involves the importation of data collection strategies, methodological applications from other fields, and predominantly computer science. This makes it challenging to adopt for individual researchers, but also for institutions even though its potential and applicability are vast. Institutional support is thus crucial. Currently, there are very few successful interdisciplinary groups focusing on CCS. Part of the reason is that, for all the rhetoric about the benefits of interdisciplinarity, few institutions are able and willing to support scholars in organizing and positioning a CCS research group. At the same time, writing grants with high risk (but high returns) due to their computational components and newly imported concepts and methods crash often on disciplinary boundaries. We seek contributions by CCS group leaders discussing experiences and providing advice and good practices for the new generation of political communication scholars interested in establishing such groups. We will host these contributions as “Forum”-style papers as an integral part of the SI.
We are interested in featuring contributions that give voice to contributors and issues underfeatured in the current debate about the application of CCS in political communication. We strongly encourage contributions by female authors and would like to see manuscripts focusing on gender, inequalities, and Asia or the Global South.
We hope the call inspires authors to freshly reflect on challenges and potentials of CCS in political communication research. It is explicitly not our goal to provide authors with just another space to publish yet one more computational-methods-driven paper. This is reflected in our publication schedule that should give authors the time and opportunity to react to the issues raised in our call. Once ready, please submit your work through the journal’s online submission portal. We also encourage everyone to review the journal’s Instructions for Authors prior to submitting.
- Paper Submissions: 1 October 2019
- First decision: 1. December 2019
- Deadline Revisions: 1 February 2020
- Final Decision: 1. March 2020
Special issue editors:
Editor Political Communication:
- Claes de Vreese, University of Amsterdam