Inspiration

DIGITAL JOURNEYS: Vladimir’s case from the Digital Literacy course

Powering large-scale reviews of energy security vs. social impact literature with topic modelling to locate cross-referencing between them

Vladimir Douglas Pacheco Cueva, Associate Professor of International Studies at Aarhus University, has embarked on a digital quest to expand his data sets to test if his analyses and hypotheses hold once scaled up. This case gives an insight into his digital journey through (and beyond) his participation in the Digital Literacy course at Arts, Aarhus University.

Motivation

Testing the strength of hypotheses by scaling up the amount of data

“I chose to participate in the Digital Literacy course because it would give me an advantage in the form of a new skill set. Back before the course started, I had a student worker do an “analogue” literature review of texts from the energy security and social impact research traditions respectively. After he finished, I wondered if our analysis and hypothesis would hold once scaled up. Fortunately, the Digital Literacy course allowed me to investigate this strand further,” Vladimir explains.

Vladimir is interested in how literature in the energy security vs. social impact fields (rarely) engage with each other – and what this means for the political conversation, actions and consequences:

“Energy security is a concept created not so long ago. The definition used by The International Energy Agency (IEA) contains three core components: Accessibility, reliability, affordability. What struck me with this is that there is no mention of any kind of social sustainability. There is already a lot done on the social impacts of securing energy, so why are energy security experts not engaging with it?” Vladimir asks. A question that is fundamental to his research project in the course.

About the project

A literature review of two estranged research fields

Vladimir’s project is a literature review of two sets of literature – one set of literature deals with “energy security”, the other with “social impacts of non-renewable resource extraction”. Vladimir is interested in the amount of cross-referencing and citation between the two sets of literature.

He and a student worker have already done a preliminary analysis of a sample corpus of around 25 government reports and journal articles in English. This preliminary analysis shows that the concept of “social impact” is rarely mentioned in energy security literature. However, it would be interesting to use a larger corpus journal articles to test this hypothesis.

“It is interesting to expand the data because it is important that stakeholders such as policy makers and energy security researchers realise that this is not an isolated case. It is important to be armed with everything, a large amount of data, to strengthen my argument. Because the silence around social impact is important for how dominant discourses are constructed. A concept like energy security can legitimise certain actions – and certain social consequences,” Vladimir explains.

Research questions

  • Energy security literature and social impact literature rarely engage with each other. The operative concept of “social impact” is seldom mentioned in energy security literature (and vice versa) across a large corpus of journal articles. 

Method

  • Topic modelling (analysing the occurrence of terms related to social impact in energy security literature).

Data

  • All journals from three important and large publishers (journal articles from the field of energy security vs. social impact of non-renewable resource extraction).

One of the main goals of Vladimir’s project is to spark the debate – or have recognised – that energy security experts fail to take the large amount of generated knowledge on social impacts into account in their writing. This knowledge on social impact may indeed change the energy security experts’ understanding of the concept of energy security.

“I think it is really important that policy makers and researchers in energy security realise that securing energy comes with a cost. It is crucial to call out a concept that ignores significant parts of the value chain – that focuses only on the product itself and its cost, without paying mind to how it is produced, who produced it, and under what social circumstances and consequences,” Vladimir explains.

Workflow

From preliminary hypotheses to large-scale observations

  1. Generating preliminary data and an “analogue” analysis (25 government reports and journal articles)
  2. Developing a theory of characteristic words of operative concepts or topics typical in each set of literature.
  3. Gaining methodological knowledge, especially on topic modelling
  4. Scoping and narrowing the project with IT supporters
  5. Extracting data (journal articles) from three major publishers
  6. Performing topic modelling analysis with the help of IT supporters
  7. Publishing an academic article and giving conference presentations.

New personal competences

Topic modelling

Vladimir has gained a fundamental understanding of what is possible (and not possible) with this particular digital method.

Scoping projects and identifying suitable data

Vladimir has a better idea of affordances and limitations of methods and thus a better ability to formulate projects and data.

Cross-disciplinary communication

Vladimir has gained insight into how to communicate with IT experts about his needs as a social scientist. Learning the digital jargon is a skill in itself.

Access to IT support

“This project has wheels”

According to Vladimir, the IT support has been great. The collaboration has been essential for formulating and executing this research project.

“I enjoyed the workshops. When we discussed my project, the IT supporters jokingly commented that “this has wheels”. I thought to myself; is it because the project is simple? Or is it because I am improving my ability to explain my needs in a digitally intelligible way? Either way, doing the Digital Literacy course helped me improve my ability to translate my research interest into a language that IT experts understand,” Vladimir explains.

Next steps

The rewards of learning something new

Next steps include doing a follow-up on the project and eventually make an article out of it. Time will tell what new kinds of research questions and projects to which Vladimir’s new skills may lead:

“Very few of us have the time to learn something completely new or learn something outside our fields and comfort zones where we have to start from the beginning. Nevertheless, it is rewarding to do it. I believe that digital methods open up a new type and range of social science research questions. The way I see it the possibilities are endless,” Vladimir finishes.

Behind the researcher

Vladimir Douglas Pacheco Cueva is an Associate Professor of International Studies at the School of Culture and Society, Aarhus University.

His research interests include analysing governance of natural resources, developing evaluation programs for international development projects, mapping the socio-economic impacts of extractive industries, examining poverty reduction mechanisms (such as local employment initiatives, financial inclusion etc.) and inequalities based on class and ethnicity.

Behind the Digital Literacy course

The Digital Literacy project is a competence development project organised by the Digital Arts Initiative at Aarhus University. It is a unique opportunity for researchers to qualify themselves in the digital area – with their own research questions as a point of departure.

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