At Oxford the first big milestone of the PhD process is called the “Transfer of Status.” When you start your PhD, called a DPhil here, you enter as a “Probationary Research Student” and are required to submit a 6000 word proposal (among other things) in order to prove you are capable completing PhD level research – you deserve the title “DPhil Candidate.”
I submitted my proposal in May, had my interview in June, and have just been told I passed (woohoo). This means I get to move forward with my research and can get working on data collection. What, you ask, was the contents of this passing proposal?
Well, I am interested in the ways in which citizens engage (or don’t) in politics and political discussions with each other. I care a lot about how we interact with each other and what that means for our political system. I am also fascinated by digital technology and how it can be used to communicate political messages.
What this boils down to, in my case, is an in-depth analysis of how 20 specific Twitter users talk about politics in their daily lives and with those in their personal networks. I am going to ask them questions about who they talk to, what tools they use to communicate (for example, Twitter, face-to-face conversation, telephone), what issues they care about, and what strategies they use to convince other people that those issues are important or of particular views on those issues.
But I am getting ahead of myself, how do I select those 20 individuals? To solve this problem I am working with Devin Gaffney on two projects.
The first is a journal article for American Behavioral Scientist where we look at the most common ways used to identify influentials on Twitter. We show that none of the standards, like network centrality or number of re-tweets, quite do the trick. These methods all identify public influentials and not average, but politically engaged, citizens.
The next is a conference paper for the Social Media and Society conference to be held at Dalhousie University in September 2013. In this study we will compare a range of ways to identify those average citizens. A big part of this project is an online survey which we will be sending out to users of the #CDNpoli hastag over the next few weeks. Once the survey is complete we will use some social network analysis techniques and some content analysis techniques to describe the community of Twitter users talking about Canadian politics. At the end of all of that I will finally have my sampling frame!
It is quite the process, but I am excited.
Here’s hoping some of you find it interesting too!