News from the Information Management Project

EPSA XIII 2023, Glasgow

Nils Düpont and Hannes Salzmann presented their paper “The Unforced Force of the Better Argument? Computationally Assessing Arguments in Parliamentary Debates” at the 13th annual conference of the European Political Science Association (EPSA) in June 2023. In cooperation with Gabriella Skitalinska and Prof. Henning Wachsmuth from the Institute of Artificial Intelligence, Leibniz University Hannover, the CRC members from the INF project are about to finish their work.

The article focuses on the analysis of parliamentary speeches in terms of the quantity and quality of arguments. Using a combination of manual annotations, machine learning, and pre-trained models, the authors hope to gain insight into how argument quality evolves over time and how it relates to other party factors such as government or opposition affiliation, ideological/policy positions, or status of the speaker.

The EPSA ranks among the largest political science conferences in Europe with about 1,900 participants in 2023. Within the panel “Qualities of Parliamentary Speech” the colleagues discussed the paper, which had been commented on by Prof. Kenneth Benoit from London School of Economics. Furthermore, Nils Düpont was chairman and moderator of the panel “Intra-Party Politics and Position-taking”.

Beforehand, Hannes Salzmann could introduce their work at this year’s COMPTEXT conference to a specialist peer group of 80 colleagues, also in Glasgow, in Mai 2023. The feedback received was helpful to further improve the article.

The engagement and exchange with colleagues on the latest methods and approaches in quantitative text analysis benefits not only the researchers but also the INF project. After the completion and publication of the paper, data on the average argument quality of government and opposition, for example, could also be added to WeSIS to provide further insight into the formation of social policy.


Contact:
Dr. Nils Düpont
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy
Mary-Somerville-Straße 7
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-57060
E-Mail: duepont@uni-bremen.de

Hannes Salzmann
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy
Mary-Somerville-Straße 7
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-57061
E-Mail: h.salzmann@uni-bremen.de

Cases from India, Nepal and Sierra Leone

Elena Samonova from the Institute of Geography at the University of Bremen, presented her research on human rights-based approaches to education and social policy on 28.06.2023.

Based on her research in India, Nepal and Sierra Leone, Dr. Samonova demonstrated the potentials and limitations of the introduction of human rights discourse in the field of social policy. By stipulating an internationally agreed set of norms, human-rights based approaches provide a stronger basis for citizens to make claims on their states and for holding states to account for their duties to enhance the access of their citizens to the realisation of their social, economic and political rights.

In her presentation Dr. Samonova argued that human rights are a multivocal discourse that should be understood as a polyphonic formation consisting of various meanings and interpretations. Using a case study on agricultural bonded labour in India and Nepal, she showed the liberatory potential of the human rights discourse which helps bonded labourers to regain their agency and restore beliefs in their own human dignity. In the context of structural oppression and systematic deprivation, such processes can positively affect self-image, reduce fear to oppose the oppression and motivate bonded labourers to raise their voices against injustice and search for appropriate methods of resistance. While it remains unclear whether these changes in perceptions will lead to the full abolition of the practice, this case has clearly shown that human rights discourse could serve as a tool for resistance against injustices at the grassroots level.

However, as another case from Sierra Leone shows, local interpretations of human rights not always have a liberatory potential: using the right to education as an example, Dr. Samonova argues that in the context of Sierra Leone the discourse of human rights is used to justify economistic neo-liberal approaches to education and social protection. Moreover, her study has also highlighted cultural and social tensions associated with human rights at the grassroots level. These tensions are related to traditional social hierarchies and an individualistic interpretation of rights that is widespread among people in rural areas and is often supported by the rhetoric of the government and big donor organizations such as World Bank.

Whilst Dr. Samonova points to the challenges associated with the introduction of the human rights discourse to social policy, she stresses significant potentials of human rights as powerful tools against poverty and discrimination.

 

Publications

Samonova, Elena. (2022). Human Rights Through the Eyes of Bonded Labourers in India. Journal of Modern Slavery: A Multidisciplinary Exploration of Human Trafficking Solutions, 7(2): 82-96.

Samonova, Elena et al. (2021). “An Empty Bag Cannot Stay Upright: The costs of “free” primary education in Sierra Leone”. International Journal of Educational Development 87: 102500.

Samonova, Elena et al. (2022). Picturing Dangers: Children’s Concepts of Safety and Risks in Rural Sierra Leone. Children and Society 37: 906–924.


Contact:
Prof. Dr. Ivo Mossig
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy
Mary-Somerville-Straße 7
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49-421-218 67410
E-Mail: mossig@uni-bremen.de

Hannes Salzmann
Hannes Salzmann
Hannes is researching party positions and their implications for social policy in the information management project. In his doctoral thesis, he wants to develop a new approach based on quantitative text analysis and natural language processing.

Dear Hannes, what did you do before the CRC, there is not too much about you on the internet.

If you google me, you find "Hannes Salzmann, sand in the gearbox of the capital": Me as a musician at the 1st of May demonstration in Braunschweig. I earned money with music - guitar and singing - as a part-time job. Professionally, I studied in Göttingen. In fact, I started studying information systems technology in Braunschweig. But in the first semester I realised that engineering maths wasn't for me, so I moved to Göttingen to study political science and economics. I then did a Master's degree in political science, focusing on democracy and political party research and on quantitative methods, including supervised and unsupervised machine learning, text as data and quantitative text analysis.

That fits in very well with what is required here at the CRC.

Yes, when I saw the job advertisement, I thought: Wow, that fits like a glove! I was lucky enough to actually get the job. Especially since I had only moved to Bremen with my partner a year ago.

What made you decide to move to Bremen without a job?

My partner and I had studied in different cities. During the pandemic we thought we could study from anywhere. We wanted to go to the north, Hamburg was too big for us - hence: Bremen. I wrote my Master's thesis here and finished in January.

January 2022? That was perfect timing with regard to the position in the CRC.

That was outrageous luck. Especially since I realised during my Master's thesis that I really enjoy research.

What did you examine in your Master's thesis?

Lobbyism. Very exciting, but still under-researched in Germany because the data availability is very poor compared to the USA, for example. In 2013 there was a study at the European level by Heike Klüver. She looked at which factors are decisive for the success of lobbying: how much money does an association have, how many people can it mobilise and how much information does it give to politicians? Klüver compared draft legislation and finalised texts and analysed all the statements of lobbying associations. She used the Wordfish algorithm to do this. The algorithm ranks the texts on a scale - for example, when it comes to the expansion of wind power, between the extreme positions a) "As much wind power as technically possible" and b) "No more wind power at all".  This gives us, on the basis of the text documents, a spatial distance between actors.

Klüver then assumed that actors who are on the same side of the scale have entered into a lobbying coalition. Then she looked: Which coalition wins? In which direction did the text of the law move in relation to the original draft? Then she calculated a multiple regression with the factors financial resources of the lobby groups, voter support and information flow. Klüver did this for 56 legislative processes. She was able to prove a statistically significant positive correlation between all three variables and the success of lobbying efforts. Money has the highest influence and voter support the lowest, but the differences are minimal.

In my Master's thesis, I wanted to transfer Klüver's approach to Germany. I collected my own data set on energy policy with about 1500 documents. This was extremely time-consuming because in Germany there is no central place for collecting comments on draft legislation and there is also no obligation to publish them.

When I calculated my regression, I found that I could explain 5 percent of the variance between the draft law and the final text of the law - so it wasn't worth it at all in terms of my research interest! I was only able to show that obviously the data basis in Germany is insufficient to carry out such a lobbying analysis.

Looking back, would you have done anything differently?

Yes, I would have extended my analysis system to include the "degree of proximity" as a variable: Those who merely submit a written opinion are quite far away from the decision-making bodies, but those who meet the federal minister in person are likely to have far-reaching influence. I have researched cases where lobbyists even sat on committees - there, too, one can assume a great deal of influence.

Apart from that, I would narrow down the topic more: Energy policy as a whole was too broad, and the text of the law, with over 300 pages, too extensive. As a result, some of the comments referred to sections of the law that had relatively little to do with each other. I should have done topic modelling beforehand to achieve a stronger focus.

However, it was nice that the automated analysis method allowed me to process text data in a quantity that would never have been possible manually.

In your current work at the CRC, you are following up on these experiences and methods: What exactly are you up to?

I'm now working in the information management project: my first task will be to collect and analyse party programmes. We are trying to determine party positions worldwide and measure their impact on social policy. Traditional ways to determine party positions are to interview experts and to analyse party programmes. But this has disadvantages: Experts are not always available for all parties. And party programmes are not objective data, but strategic documents: their purpose is to present the party to the public in a desired way, and they do not always serve to realistically represent a party's goals. Moreover, a party's position can change in the course of a legislative period.

Therefore, I would like to develop a new approach to measuring party positions. My first idea was about policy output. This has the weakness that you can only apply it to governing parties ...

... basically only to parties that are in government alone ...

Correct! You would have to filter out all other factors, coalition partners, veto players, the Bundesrat, etc. That is difficult.

But there is an archive in Germany with all parliamentary debates, including the names and party affiliations of the speakers. I would like to try to automatically extract ideological positions from parliamentary speeches and derive party positions from them. To do this, I would like to delve a little deeper into quantitative text analysis and natural language processing.

What time period are you looking at?

Which period I'm looking at also depends on the type of algorithm I'm going to use. There are several to choose from. I'm glad that we have two computer scientists in the INF project with whom I can talk about such things. Once I know what is technically possible, I can better estimate how many documents I can analyse and how much pre- and post-processing will be necessary.

Will you limit your analysis to one area of social policy?

I think I will not only look at social policy speeches, but also consider other areas. In determining the party position, I would like to move away from the classic division into left and right - I have in mind a double scale with a libertarian vs. authoritarian and a transverse free-market vs. social justice dimension. My work in the CRC could possibly also benefit from such a classification, as a more precise determination of the parties' position could also provide better insight into the corresponding influence on social policy. In this way, I hope to be able to create further positive synergy effects between my dissertation and my project work.


Contact:
Hannes Salzmann
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy
Mary-Somerville-Straße 7
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-57061
E-Mail: h.salzmann@uni-bremen.de