New CASS project: Big data media analysis and the representation of urban violence in Brazil

A new project in CASS has been funded jointly by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council and the Brazilian research agency CONFAP. The project will involve a collaboration between two Lancaster academics (Professors Elena Semino and Tony McEnery) and two Brazilian academics: Professor Heloísa Pedroso de Moraes Feltes (University of Caxias do Sul) and Professor Ana Cristina Pelosi (University of Santa Cruz do Sul and Federal University of Ceara). The team will employ corpus methods to investigate the linguistic representation of urban violence in Brazil.

Urban violence is a major problem in Brazil: the average citizen is affected by acts of violence, more or less directly, on a daily basis. This creates a general state of fear and insecurity among the population, but, at the same time, may promote a sense of empathy with the less privileged classes in Brazil. Urban violence is also a regular topic in daily conversations and news media, so that people’s perceptions of the nature of this phenomenon are partly mediated by discourse. In particular, daily press reports of acts of violence may affect people’s views and attitudes in ways which may or may not be consistent with the actual incidence, forms and causes of violence.

This collaborative project will investigate the linguistic representation of urban violence in Brazil by applying the methods of Corpus Linguistics to two corpora:

  1. The existing transcripts of two focus groups on living with urban violence conducted in Fortaleza, Brazil, for a total of approximately 20,000 words;
  2. A new 2-million-word corpus of news reports in the Brazilian press, to be constructed as part of the partnership.

The linguistic representation of urban violence in the two corpora will be investigated by means of the analysis of: lexical and semantic concordances, collocational patterns and key words.  A comparison will also be carried out between the two corpora, in order to identify similarities and differences with respect to what types of violence are primarily talked about and how they are linguistically represented.

The comparative analysis of the two corpora will make it possible to explore in detail the relationships between official statistics about urban violence, media representations and citizens’ views. A better understanding of these relationships can help to alleviate the consequences of urban violence on citizens’ lives, and to foster attitudes conducive to the solution of the social problems that cause the violence in the first place.

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