Susan Jackson (senior lecturer in international relations at the Department of Global Political Studies) presented on the Militarization 2.0 project, a four-year grant funded by Vetenskapsrådet. The project studies social media in International Relations.
Susan focuses on developing methodology for using social media as a tool in researching the presence of miltary-related subjects and discourses taking place online, particularly across social media platforms. Susan strongly believes that social media can fuuntion as a fruitful way of doing research. For the project, she put together an international team of experts from the UK, Sweden and Germany who come from diverse fields such as military video games and popular culture, and private military and security companies. The project brings the researchers together to conceptualize new ways of using social media as a research tool. So far, as Susan mentioned, social media have been mainly used as tools in researching political unrest, such as in the case of Egypt or Turkey. She argues that her approach differs by concentrating more on everyday life dimension of debates carried on across social media platforms, yet with a particular focus on these touching upon militarization and their interlinkage. Moreover her team will use gender studies lens as a primary analytical tool, since as she argues, militarization can not be studied without the gender perspective.
As the project is on its initial stage, development of methodology has been lately the biggest challenge. Susan spoke about attempts to merge quantitative analysis of big data with a qualitative and more in-depth study of previously aggregated content. She described her methodological approach as Analytical Eclectism by which she understands an openly hybrid combination of quantitative and qualitative approaches strongly informed by gender perspective. Susan sees a need to confront the artificial or constructed binary split into quantitative and qualitative perspectives. There is a need to address this split particularly now when quantitative methods are ever more often entering the realm of social sciences and the humanities. The eclectic approach means that we can use a variety of approaches , whether it is big data trend spotting or close analysis of one Facebook page.
Research questions such as how to track the persistence of militarism across social media, how military images and language penetrate the social media sphere and how they enter the realm of everyday life will be addressed with a support of few theoretical concepts. These will include feminist quantitative analysis in gender studies, feminist critique of international relationships and post structuralism. Susan mentioned that the choice of theoretical instruments is deliberate and biases are to be communicated clearly and transparently upfront. The very decision of taking a gender perspective as the leading one is already political, just as every data collection mechanism is always already politically tuned. Susan spoke about gender perspective as particularly difficult to be studied online, where conventional ways of ‘measuring’ gender cannot be applied. Gender is socially constructed, but is it measurable? Do people while online present their gender authentically? Facebook has a power over selection of categories of gender for instance. The freedom of choice is hence pre-determined.