Texts and Images of Austerity: Workshop in Erlangen, Germany

On Sunday 24th September, a few of us from CASS travelled to the small Bavarian city of Erlangen, Germany, to attend ‘Texts and Images of Austerity in Britain’, a five-day workshop being held at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität. Our number included Deputy Director of CASS Andrew Hardie, Olivia Ha, Craig Evans, and former CASS member Laura Paterson (now with the Open University). Also at the event was former CASS Director Tony McEnery.

Partly inspired by the Paul Baker and Jesse Egbert edited book ‘Triangulating Methodological Approaches in Corpus Linguistic Research’ (2016), the workshop brought together researchers – both seasoned and budding – to work on a common data set on the topic of austerity: a 20+ million-word corpus of news articles from the Guardian and Daily Telegraph (2010-2016), nearly 400 images from these articles, and a collection of Twitter messages from the same period. Baker and Egbert et al. used different corpus methods to analyse their shared data. At the Erlangen workshop, methods from different disciplines were used, with participants coming from a variety of fields, including Sociology, Political Science, Linguistics, and Economics. The purpose was to encourage transdisciplinary collaboration in the study of how austerity is discursively constructed.

The workshop followed a format that combined short presentations with working groups. In the convivial atmosphere of a group of twenty or so international researchers, each participant presented their approach to looking at austerity. A variety of theories and techniques were outlined in the presentations, and corpus software and methods were well represented across the workshop. In his talk, Tony McEnery provided an overview of corpus linguistics, representing its value as an approach that focuses on how language is actually used rather than on how people think it is used. This overview also highlighted the variety of ways corpus methods can be employed in the study of text and talk. In other presentations, the focus was more on the means of doing corpus analysis, namely the software. For example, CQPweb: the main interface for accessing and analysing the text data at the workshop. Here, Andrew Hardie was on hand to provide a demonstration and offer his support.

Contributions from others with links to CASS included: Olivia Ha’s look at the collocates of emotion and evaluation, Craig Evans’s consideration of the notion of empathy, and Laura Paterson’s presentation on the use of geoparsing software. Other participants covered a range of techniques, theories and topics including multimodal annotation, textual analysis of moral logic, metaphor of austerity as attack, gender and austerity, crisis narratives, and critical realism.

In the working groups, participants with similar interests naturally gravitated to each other, particularly along the lines of those with more of a corpus focus and those with more of a multimodal focus. This, nevertheless, did not prevent a fruitful exchange of information and ideas, with several participants also presenting initial findings from their collaborative work. From a corpus perspective, a major challenge was the high presence of duplicates in the newspaper corpus (an issue with NexisLexis and capturing online newspaper data). The benefit of the workshop situation was that there were several participants with computational expertise present and able to work out ways of cleaning up the data.

The workshop in Erlangen was run by Tim Griebel, Stefan Evert, and a team of others at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität. Our hosts were incredibly welcoming, providing food and refreshments, organising accommodation and evening meals in the charming city of Erlangen, and even arranging a mid-week city tour event. The workshop itself was an interesting and rewarding exercise that forms part of a larger project on austerity. It helped create a space for different kinds of social scientists to exchange ideas and develop working relationships, which may develop into future research collaborations.

For more information on the workshop and its theme of austerity, visit the workshop website.