Areas of Study
Political Crisis and Language
The analyses in this section present interesting findings that illustrate how we will be analyzing data for the various questions in this proposal. Our previous research suggests language and discourse patterns are diagnostic and potentially predictive of social disequilibrium on multiple levels of granularity, such as national armed crisis periods (macro levels) and daily casualty death tolls (micro level).
A central question facing scholars and policymakers is how to anticipate the behavior of rogue political actors, including authoritarian leaders and non-state actors like rebel groups and terrorists. By analyzing the linguistic patterns of leaders and other key political actors, new data and metrics can be collected that assist policymakers to build improved methods for anticipating potential areas of unrest, instability, and conflict. Our goal is to determine if political actors, such as leaders, use particular language or styles of speaking before performing acts of violence and acting on threats.
Threats and Bluffs
Distinguishing between bluffs and threats is one key issue that we believe linguistic analysis can help address. Actors in global politics, whether leaders of countries, leaders of rebel movements, or leaders of
terrorist networks, have the opportunity to make speeches demanding policy concessions from other actors. We describe these demands as either credible threats, or bluffs. As a part of the bargaining process, under some conditions, actors will be required to follow through on their threats, whereas other circumstances allow actors to use bluffing strategies to obtain policy concessions (Powell, 2002; Putnam, 1988). This is particularly problematic when dealing with rogue states, which may bluff repeatedly before carrying out a threat. Distinguishing between the two conditions is difficult by intention: actors want their bluffs to sound credible.Leaders are variably able to signal their resolve and capabilities regarding their conflict intentions (Maoz, 1983; Morrow, 1989). They do this by exposing themselves to audience costs, or the consequences they would face both domestically and internationally if they backed down from a conflict once they had committed.
Contentious Political Behavior
This area of research examines how discourse patterns are diagnostic of socially significant states, like civil war and opposition mobilization, as well as social and protest movements. We use mixed methods, including linguistic analysis, event data, and humanitarian data such as casualties, to evaluate patterns of conflict behavior within states. This complex set of data provides an improved understanding of the influences for mobilization, especially those leading to violence and in particular violence against civilians. We are interested in the following questions for this research: How do linguistic patterns reflect sub-national contentious political behavior? Can we identify critical political moments based on language used by leaders, rebels, and civilians through mass communication?
To be a viable political movement, individuals must overcome the collective action problem (Olson, 1965). We assert that language can provide evidence for groups’ organizational capacity and indicate whether they are likely to mobilize as a group, or whether they are fragmented and not likely to become a cohesive, coherent movement.
Body in Politics
Multimodal forms of communication, including language, nonverbal cues, and audiovisual elements, can inform our understanding of methods of persuasion, elements of cognition, keys to decoding deception, and locus of attention. The insertion and easy manipulation of messages within new mediated contexts has increased the need to understand the meaning and impact of communication fragments. The original source material carries meaning and impact through the selection of words, nonverbal elements (e.g., intonation, stress, pitch, rhythm, facial expressions, gestures, movement, and interpersonal spatial positioning), and audio-visual context (e.g. music, sound effects, visual imagery). While some of those meanings carry forward, however, the combined words, nonverbal elements, and audio-visual context in the original source fragment often changes its meaning and impact when repurposed anew. Multimodal content is the combination of word choice, facial expressions, gestures, voice analysis, audio-visual framing, and audience attention, emotions, cognition, and behaviors. We define multimodal congruence as the coordination of language, nonverbal, and sound/audio/visual cues that can help to reveal psycholinguistic cognitive states like deliberate and inadvertent deception, including implicit bias (Greenwald & Krieger, 2006; Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998).