Digital Discussions in the Humanities and Social Sciences: "Are Common Topics Common? Rhetorical Questions and Computational Methods"
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William Hart-Davidson, Associate Professor of Rhetoric & Writing and Co-Director of the Writing in Digital Environments (WIDE) Research Center at Michigan State University, will discuss his research that highlights the potential uses of mathematical and computational models for studying contemporary online communication. "In this talk, I will make the case for using mathematical models to render internet discussion threads as computational objects. The focus of my presentation is less on the techniques, however, than on the correspondence between the mathematical models and concepts from rhetorical theory, beginning with the way both human coders and our computer model focus on basic units of analysis, and discussing how these units are understood to form larger discursive structures such as arguments. I’ll show how our research group came to understand random graph (Erdös-Rényi random graphs) and network analysis techniques (Eigen-vector centrality) to provide us with a means of describing and, perhaps, predicting the way discussion threads develop over time."