The challenges of a semantic and argumentative approach of corpus in the era of “big data”
Francis Chateauraynaud and Josquin Debaz (GSPR – EHESS, Paris)
Social science methodologies face continuous challenges emerging from the evolutions of the digital worlds. Promises and prophecies connected with the rise of big data are further accentuating this trend. Drawing on our long experience of analyzing complex issues through large evolutionary corpora, we propose a four steps paper in order to characterize some key drivers for the understanding of contemporary social processes.
“An argument is an interaction between two or more participants which involves a claim by each participant that his contention can be justified. Arguments may involve complex and lengthy sequences of steps, questions, answers, and objections. At any particular stage of an argument, however, we should be able to identify the semantic core of the argument. The semantic core is a set of propositions made up of one or more conclusions and some sets of premises.” (Walton, 2008)
How can we counteract the very idea that the mere massive accumulation of data would be enough to produce social intelligibility? Many experiments with the software Prospero put forward the argumentative and narrative dimensions of discursive productions, the need for coherent rules in the making of corpora and the development of congruent models, based on the abductive reasoning specific to pragmatism, and relevant for a certain class of complex processes.
During the last two decades, our main domain of investigation has been oriented to public issues related to health, technological and environmental risks. We paid a special attention to the critical or contentious moments, creating intense argumentative activities, and generally summarized under the term of “controversy”. Addressing the different forms of critique created an opportunity to grasp and to make intelligible the cognitive and political processes of alert, controversy and regulation – considered both at a national, European or global scale (Beck, 2008; Chateauraynaud and Debaz, 2017). Between 2006 and 2014, this research program was oriented toward the experimentation and the design of an Observatory of alerts and controversies based on socio-informatics tools1]. In the following posts, we will examine different aspects of this experience and aim to provide guidelines for the development of collaborative platforms dedicated to social research on contemporary issues.
- Our main partner along this research was the French national agency for health safety (ANSES), see the conclusive report: (Chateauraynaud, 2014).