Not only since the rapid penetration of digital communication technologies, important parts of social meaning and practice are expressed, negotiated and maintained using texts. While the immense multiplication of exchanges conducted in textual form has offered valuable new research sites for social scientific inquiry, it also comes with important challenges. One challenge that is often sidelined in contemporary debates about textual research in the digital age is the matter of decontextualization: In this talk, I will argue that the use of computational, statistical analyses to tackle digital discourse at scale incurs a worrisome tendency to sever a multitude of intertextual relations that are constitutive for our understanding of constructed meanings and practices, at immense costs for the validity of text-based inquiry. Yet, I shall argue that the very ubiquity of digital discourse, which has given rise to said problem, also holds the key to several possible solutions. In my talk, I will introduce three aspects of intertextuality – interactional, episodic, and semantic – which jointly constitute a rich network of textually expressed, culturally embedded meanings and practices. Drawing upon selected past work and forward-looking agendas from my efforts to study the formation and contestation of shared political ideas, I will discuss methodological avenues for studying digital text while preserving intertextual relations, and raise important considerations for improving the validity and richness of digital textual inquiry in the social sciences.
Christian Baden is an associate professor at the Department of Communication and Journalism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His research focuses on the collaborative construction of meaning in dynamic, political public debates, including the processes of contestation and the renegotiation of shared meanings. His publications have contributed to theory and methodology in research on framing, discourse dynamics, and the social and psychological process of sense making. His methodological work combines techniques of qualitative discourse analysis and frame analysis with network-analytic perspectives and contemporary strategies for the automated processing of large-scale discourse. He is a member of the European research infrastructure project OPTED "Observatory for Political Texts in European Democracies", as well as the PROFECI project team on “Mediating the Future: The Social Dynamics of Public Projections”.