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LIVE 24/7: two cartoons from Iraq

15 Nov

The times have gone, when a social approach to art history was able to produce such classics as Arnold Hauser‘s Social History of Art, and yet – no doubt thanks to my library work within the social sciences – I am always fascinated by (contemporary) works of art that know how to address broader issues than only aesthetic/poetic ones.

Here follows an example from political cartoonist Abdul Raheem Yassir’s work, seen (and photographed) last month at the Iraqi Pavilion at the 55th “Biennale di Venezia”: present-day media pervasiveness and our (active) role therein are finely addressed by both cartoons.

Abdul Raheem Yassir Tank

Abdul Raheem Yassir Interview


The autumn of information literacy (2): subject search in LexisNexis

8 Nov

Just as with the previous ‘autumn’ post on statistics, the aim of the present one is to illustrate a specific search need (news on a topic, in the case of LexisNexis Academic), building both on older posts on this issue and on several questions from UvA students and staff I have been dealing with in the course of 2013.

Let’s say I want to search both US and Dutch News for articles on youth and the media. Some English search terms I may come up with for the two concepts are the following:

– youth, girl, boy, teen, teenager, adolescent, child, toddler, baby, infant

– media, internet, social media, games, twitter, facebook, television, film, book, reading, digital, Ipad, computer, tablet, pc, socialbesitas, chat, webcam, groom, cyberbullying, multitasking

LexisNexis will in most cases automatically search for spelling variants singular/plural, i.e. ‘girl’ searches ‘girls’ as well, but ‘child’ does not search for ‘children’. Being an exclamation mark the character accepted by LexisNexis for replacing any number of letters at the end of a word, the search strings I am going to use in the database in order to fetch all (plural) variants look therefore like these (complete with the OR connectors):

– youth OR girl OR boy OR teen OR teenager OR adolescent OR child! OR toddler OR baby OR infant

– media OR internet OR social media OR games OR twitter OR facebook OR television OR film OR books OR reading OR digital OR Ipad OR computer OR tablet OR pc OR socialbesitas OR chat! OR webcam! OR groom! OR cyberbullying OR multitask!

After having selected the sources I want to search (Major US Newspapers; screenshot A, 1 to 5, click to enlarge), I will combine the above search strings with each other in Power Search, also adding the following three “Subjects” from the Index Terms: adolescents, children, students & student life, and thereafter choosing for Match any terms (screenshot B-C, 6 to 9).

subject search LN A

subject search LN B

Thereafter I will most likely want to limit the search by date (screenshot C, 10) and I may want to limit it by section as well, i.e. determine in which part(s) of the article my search is performed: HEADLINE or HLEAD (headline + first paragraph) being two interesting options (screenshot C, 11).

subject search LN C

What about Dutch news or, more generally speaking, news in other languages than English? The major difference is that the use of Index Terms (needless to say: particularly helpful when searching for a topic) is not possible, since such terms are not added to most non-English sources in LexisNexis.

After having the search strings translated into the preferred language and matched them to the relevant sources (same steps needed as for the example above), my best option is to limit the search by section, with HLEAD as favourite option (screenshot D). Practical applications of this strategy, just as of the one described for the news in English, so far confirm it as convenient for finding relevant newspapers articles on a given subject with LexisNexis Academic.

Should any reader, who has not only been patient enough to read the whole post, but has also got any clue which may help improve the above search strategy, I’ll be more than happy to hear her/his feedback.

subject search LN D

The autumn of information literacy (1): statistics

11 Oct

No end of season (or worse) meant with the title, autumn just being my busiest time with information literacy courses and workshops, and therefore the richest in opportunities to expand my knowledge for answering students’ and staff’s questions.

autumn leaves oxford botanic garden Photo from the website of the University of Oxford Botanic Garden

I was asked sometime ago about how to find statistics for GDP per capita (Gross National Product) and unemployment rates in 15 West European Countries for the period 1945-1960. After having quickly overcome a brief feeling of disorientation, somehow occurring to my “humanities side” anytime I am dealing with figures, numbers and measurements, I eagerly took to work and found the following:

GDP per capita
– the University of Groningen‘s Maddison Project offers complete data from 1870 not only for European Countries but for Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States as well; data for older years are irregularly available, and the same applies to recent data for East European Countries and other continents.

– data from as early as 1500 can be generated for all Countries in the world at Clio Infra, a joint project from among others the International Institute of Social History;

– data from 1950 onwards can be generated for all Countries in the world through the Penn World Table, offered by the Center for International Comparisons at the University of Pennsylvania.

2012-GDP per capita 2012-GDP per capita map generated at the World DataBank

Unemployment rates
– these data proved more difficult to be found (online and for free), since there is no global overview for 1945-1960 for all the 15 Countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom), in any case not according to the comprehensive University of Stockholm‘s Portal for Historical Statistics.

– partial datasets (in terms of geographic or period coverage) are also those which are available at ILOSTAT (International Labour Organization Department of Statistics; from 1969), at the World DataBank (World Bank; from 1980) and at the OECD iLibrary (from 1955), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development‘s database to which the UvA-Library has a subscription (access restrictions possible).

– given that the datasets available at the National Bureaus of Statistics for the relevant Countries proved not complete as well (with the notable exceptions of the Dutch CBS Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek and the French INSEE Institut National de la statistique et des études écomomiques), it was a relief to discover that at least printed copies of the ILO Year Book of Labour Statistics for the relevant years are still available at the Library of the earlier mentioned, Amsterdam based International Institute of Social History.

unemployment, total (% of total labor force) Excel chart generated with 2011 unemployment data (% of total labor force) from the World DataBank

Opening academic year

2 Sep

CW cube
Next to the groups of students I already had the pleasure to welcome to Library skills workshops (among others, during the UvA Master’s Introduction on August 22), I got last week two more signs of the approaching new academic year, which has officially started today:

– the Communication Cube Calendar, functioning as well as a countdown to the move of the departments of the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (and the Library with them) from the present location in the centre of Amsterdam to the Roeterseiland campus in July 2014.

– the 3rd revised printing of the academic skills guide for Sociology (Sociologie als ambacht, ‘sociology as a craft’), to which I have been contributing with a chapter on the ‘bibliotheek’ from the first edition two years ago.

3e editie Sociologie als ambacht

Twitter and photography

25 Mar

Being myself only an occasional twitterer, yet one interested both in art and in social media’s impact on (scholarly) communication, I was utterly fascinated when hearing about Geolocation, a project developed by American photographers and university lecturers Marni Shindelman (University of Georgia) and Nate Larson (Maryland Institute College of Art).

Motivated by their interest in «the cultural understanding of distance as perceived in modern life and networked culture», Larson and Shindelman first searched the daily 340 million tweets for those that were geo-tagged, and then travelled to the sites where the tweets had originated from and took a photo of them «to mark the virtual information in the real world».

More than 250 photos were taken (in the USA, Canada, England) and paired to the original tweets. Larson and Shindelman’s collaborative site presents a selection of Geolocation’s works, further mentioning scholars’ use of such terms as ambient awareness and online oversharing as a likely frame of reference for research (Kaplan & Haenlein’s The early bird catches the news: nine things you should know about micro-blogging, Business Horizons 2011, retrieved via Web of Science, might prove a useful starting point for a literature search on the topic).

My own tiny selection from Larson and Shindelman’s pairs follows below. In two cases I have based my choice on the self-reflective (i.e. twitter-centered) character of the work: being the self-reflection intrinsic to the tweet, such as in the deserted street, or ironically added by the photographers, in the flock’s case. As for the motel’s picture, my very personal motivation for choosing the work has been the poetic quality of the text/photo juxtaposition, whose intimate loneliness both reminded me of Edward Hopper’s silent paintings and of how Phaidon newsletter’s january issue, where I first read about Geolocation, described the project as one highlighting «again how people are prepared to share their innermost thoughts with billions of people – even when they feel they are alone».




Italian elections 2013: social media and political participation

19 Feb

Italy’s general election has been called for on next 24-25 February. If you are Italian and living in a foreign Country without being registered with the AIRE (Anagrafe Italiana Residenti Estero, Register of Italian citizens abroad: applies only for stays longer than twelve months), the only way to participate elections held during your stay abroad is to travel back home.

This means that all Italians – from (exchange) students to (voluntary) workers – temporarily living in a foreign Country will have to consider whether they want their participation to the approaching elections easily to become their most expensive vote so far.


Motivated by their will to vote and by the inequality of rights between Italian citizens themselves, and between Italians and other EU-citizens (the parliament in Rome has so far been unable to provide any legal framework for voting abroad such as those available, amongst others, to Dutch, British and French citizens, no matter how long their stay abroad is), a number of students took in January different initiatives meant both to stigmatize the problem and to call for symbolic (online) polls to be organized at the same time of the election in different foreign cities.

Here they are on a row:
Studenti italiani che non potranno votare alle prossime elezioni (Facebook page; Italian students that will not be able to vote in the next election);
Vogliovotare (I want to vote) and Iovotofuorisede (I vote ‘fuori sede’), for students enrolled at Italian Universities elsewhere than in their own hometown (‘fuori sede’);
Iovogliovotare (I want to vote), for all Italian citizens temporarily living abroad.

Waiting for next week-end to see how many people will take part in these symbolic polls (let alone what the results of the general elections themselves will be), the students’ initiative seems to me already one more example of the potential of social media to facilitate political participation, if not always on such a (dramatic) scale as from 2010 in Egypt (see amongst others Mark Lynch’s After Egypt: the limits and promise of online challenges to the authoritarian Arab State, access restrictions possible), certainly in a fashion that proves how an even enthousiastic will to participate the electoral process still exists amid the disheartenment about the value of political commitment which seems at times to typify the attitude of a majority of (not only) the Italian people.

Picture comes from

Football & racism: (2) Political discourse

30 Jan

This post is a follow-up to the previous one, where footballer Kevin-Prince Boateng’s walking off in protest at racist chanting, during a friendly match in Italy, gave me the opportunity to search LexisNexis for related English-language news, thus renewing my exploration of the international database of news resources. In order to switch from LexisNexis to other scholarly search tools, I decided to refocus the theme (‘football and racism’) on ‘political discourse’.


As showed by such initiatives as UK’s Show Racism the Red Card, there has been in recent years a growing concern in football (and other sports as well) about supporters’ discriminatory attitudes becoming more and more aggressive, not infrequently even against one’s own players: whereas my personal memories of Dutch middlefielder Aron Winter being booed by the (extreme-right) fans of his own Lazio Roma (1992-96) might only be vague (being myself not into football but always quite attentive to discriminatory issues), news from Russia are as recent as last december, with Zenit St Petersburg fans wanting black and gay players excluded from the team.

showracismtheredcard homophobiaWhat makes Boateng’s case specially interesting in this context is that, amongst the supporters responsible for the racist chanting against the German-Ghanaian player, the Councillor (NB: Youth affairs & Sport) from a nearby town has been identified: Riccardo Grittini, who has by now resigned from his position, is a member of the federalist and anti-immigration Northern-Italian party Lega Nord, whose overtly discriminatory language (both racially and sexually) distinguishes the party rhetoric from its very beginnings in the late 80s.

By which I come to the subject of the post: what kind of relation, if any, can be established between the use of discriminatory language in both (Italian) political rhetoric/propaganda and football/sport fandom? Has there any research been done on these possible relations?

For the sake of this blog’s scope I chose:

1) to translate the key concepts of my topic into the following (combination of) search terms (the search strings I used can be seen here):
“discriminatory language”
football OR sport
“political language” OR “political discourse” OR propaganda OR “political rhetoric”

2) to search with the above terms the following sources (access restrictions may apply outside the UvA-network) for peer-reviewed articles:
Communication & Mass Media Complete
Web of Science
ERIC, Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts, Sociological Abstracts and Worldwide Political Science Abstracts (through ProQuest search platform)

3) to mention here only the ten most relevant articles (judging from their abstracts) out of a total of about seventy I retrieved from the whole set of databases, preferring those available online through the UvA-Library (again, mind possible access restrictions). Newest to oldest:

Gripentrog, J. (2010). The transnational pastime: baseball and American perceptions of Japan in the 1930s. Diplomatic History, 34(2), 247-273.

Van Hilvoorde, I., Elling, A., & Stokvis, R. (2010). How to influence national pride? The Olympic medal index as a unifying narrative. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 45(1), 87-102. DOI: 10.1177/1012690209356989

Bonde, H. (2009). The great male cycle: sport, politics and European masculinity today. The International Journal of the History of Sport, 26(10), 1540-1554. DOI: 10.1080/09523360903057559

Toohey, K., & Taylor, T. (2006). ‘Here be dragons, here be savages, here be bad plumbing’: Australian media representations of sport and terrorism. Sport in Society, 9(1), 71-93. DOI: 10.1080/17430430500355816

Brick, N., & Wilks, C. (2002). Les partis politiques et la féminisation des noms de métier. Journal of French Language Studies, 12(01), 43-53. DOI: 10.1017/S0959269502000133

Delgado, F. (1999). Sport and politics major league soccer, constitution, and (the) Latino audience(s). Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 23(1), 41-54. DOI: 10.1177/0193723599231004

Veri, M. J. (1999). Homophobic discourse surrounding the female athlete. Quest, 51(4), 355-368. DOI: 10.1080/00336297.1999.10491691

Muñoz, F. G. H., & Romero, F. G. (1996). Metáforas del deporte en los discursos políticos de Demóstenes. Cuadernos de Filología Clásica. Estudios griegos e indoeuropeos, 6, 107.

Semino, E., & Masci, M. (1996). Politics is football: metaphor in the discourse of Silvio Berlusconi in Italy. Discourse & Society, 7(2), 243-269. DOI: 10.1177/0957926596007002005

Strenk, A. (1979). What price victory? The world of international sports and politics. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 445(1), 128-140.

Somehow it didn’t come as a surprise that by far the most often cited of these articles is Semino & Masci’s from 1996, dealing with (football) metaphors in the political discourse of Italian former Prime Minister (and president of football team AC Milan) Silvio Berlusconi. Neither was I much surprised by the sheer variety of research scopes – from Ancient Greek to 1930s America, from gender issues to the Olympic Games – that even such a limited search for literature revealed as far as sport, racism (discriminatory language) and political discourse are concerned.

The afore-mentioned variety is in fact a confirmation both of the richness of academic research and of the need for conceiving and developing an appropriate topic, keeping in mind that I can gradually rephrase it according to the resources I (don’t) discover, and knowing how important academic search tools can be in the process.