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Allgemein vDHd2021 Blogreihe

Public Humanities as an open stage or: Why science in social media should also be fun

I love social media. And I use social media intensively and in its full range: I have my own blog (fussballlinguistik.de), am author and editorial team member of a collaborative science blog (lingdrafts.hypotheses.org), have a Twitter account (or several, see below), produce various podcasts, maintain an Instagram account and a YouTube channel about the professorship, and then there is also TikTok. I have only given up Facebook, because nothing (more) happens here that interests me.

Note: This is the English translation (automatically with DeepL). The original article in German by Simon Meier-Vieracker (TU Dresden) can be found here.

I love social media. And I use social media intensively and in its full range: I have my own blog (fussballlinguistik.de), am author and editorial team member of a collaborative science blog (lingdrafts.hypotheses.org), have a Twitter account (or several, see below), produce various podcasts, maintain an Instagram account and a YouTube channel about the professorship, and then there is also TikTok. I have only given up Facebook, because nothing (more) happens here that interests me.

The whole thing takes a lot of time, but it is essential for my scientific work. As we all know, the digital humanities scene networks primarily via Twitter, and if you don’t at least read along here, you miss out on a lot. New publications, projects, events of all kinds, concepts for teaching, and last but not least tools – nowhere else can you find out about all this as reliably and quickly as on Twitter. And since a lot is offered to me on Twitter, I also try to give a lot back. I like to place small corpus linguistic analysis findings there. Often they serve me as a kind of test balloon; if they meet with interest, I make a blog post and maybe even a ‚real‘ scientific publication out of it. But I also post spontaneous thoughts on linguistic issues for direct exchange with my colleagues. And of course I also use Twitter to exhibit our activities, especially those at our professorship. Especially in teaching, sometimes wonderful things happen and emerge in collaboration with students (e.g. student-produced videos or podcasts), and they simply deserve a bigger stage than just the seminar public.

Particitpative science communication

That may sound a little vain and attention-seeking, and maybe sometimes it is. But I’m also happy when others do similar things and give me inspiration. Particularly in teaching, I have benefited so much from the ideas of others that would not have been accessible to me at all without the display on Twitter. And I really wish that much more from the teaching context would find its way into the social media public sphere, especially since experience has shown that this is perceived and appreciated as great recognition by the students. What becomes possible here, as Jürgen Hermes has already pointed out in his contribution to this blog series, is science communication in a decidedly participatory way. Science communication that not only transfers completed research to a passively receiving public, but also discusses smaller and more preliminary forms on a public stage, involving a variety of actors: From the students to the users, who can participate in the discussion through replies and comments. And public humanities, as I understand it, should do just that: establish „spaces for communicating and jointly reflecting on the objects and results of research in the humanities“ (Meier 2020: 359). Social media are ideally suited for this.

The open stage as a metaphor

For the particular potentials of social media for the public humanities, I would like to propose the metaphor of the open stage. The idea that social media can be interpreted as a kind of showroom, where not only action is taken but action is also shown, has been unfolded by Konstanze Marx (2019: 246), among others, using the example of mourning practices. With the concept of the open stage, I would like to capture some more aspects that seem to me typical and also important for the public humanities. On open stages, for example, various forms of performance are permitted, which are precisely not ready-made and professional shows. Rather, their – and here I would like to quote the succinct (German) Wikipedia entry on the open stage – „experimental character“ is in the foreground, which offers the performers the chance to try something new. The audience can also experience things here that are only in the process of being created and which you can therefore also see how they are made. On the open stage, which is open to beginners as well as experienced performers, different acts take turns in a rather quick sequence. Before and after the performances, the performers do not disappear into the backstage area, but are themselves part of the audience. And because the stage is played with smaller forms, the audience is not obliged to pay constant attention: No one is blamed if he or she prefers to go over to the bar in the meantime to chat a bit with the audience and perhaps also with other performers.

Much of what distinguishes public humanities in social media can be elegantly inserted into the setting of the open stage. The small forms of presentation find a counterpart in the media formats of tweets, Instastories, or TikTok videos, which alternate in rapid succession in the timelines. Scientists, both established and novices, are allowed to present their preliminary work here, which offers everyone else the chance to experience science in the making. The follow-up communications that take place in the replies and comments show the dialogical potential that provisionality offers, especially since most of the recipients are themselves presenters, or at least can be. And even if the presentations vie for attention, they have no claim to it. In the dynamic and always algorithmically controlled timelines, the individual contributions are communication offers that no one is obligated to accept.

I find the metaphor of the open stage instructive for the description of public humanities in social media in yet another respect: the openness for the most diverse forms of presentation also generates interfaces between science, art, and entertainment media. A TikTok video can and should be fun, it can focus on the scientist as a person, and it can still contribute to the communication of science. After all, science is not just about scientific results, it is also a way of life, including everyday life and small breaks. And on Twitter, too, a playful style of content and presentation is, in my opinion, legitimate and perhaps even particularly appropriate for the medium and its attention-economy framework.

For example Twitterbots

All of this also applies to a format that I have used intensively in recent years and that I understand quite explicitly as an instrument of the Public Humanities, namely Twitterbots. They are a type of show act, so to speak, with which I particularly like to play on the open stage of the Public Humanities. Twitterbots can be used to demonstrate smaller computational linguistic tasks in a low-threshold format in an entertaining and transparent way and make them comprehensible. They also provide an ongoing publication channel that ideally also provides networking opportunities not only with the scientific public. A list of my bots can be found here (some of them, by the way, use the AutoChirp service introduced by Jürgen Hermes in this blog). Among them are, for example, a bot that tweets „sentences beginning with ‚and‘“ from an extensive corpus of novels, a bot that randomly recombines novel titles along the lines of „The X of Y“ (such as „The Shadow of the Wind“), and a bot that spells out, on the basis of the corpora of the Digital Dictionary of the German Language, what it can concretely mean that satire is allowed to do anything.

The „live ticker generator“

As a somewhat more advanced example, however, I would like to single out my bot @randomlivetext, which generates random live ticker messages based on my publicly available corpora on soccer linguistics (Meier 2017) according to a combinatorial principle. The conception of the bot derives from corpus linguistic research findings on the formulaic nature of soccer live tickers (Meier 2019). For example, analyses have revealed highly frequent use of semi-schematic sentence frames such as after {adjective} {noun}, which are concretized into creative-looking formulations with an extremely extensive set of filler values. The bot turns these analytical findings into the productive, so to speak, and puts the filler values previously collected in corpus queries into a limited number of sentence templates on a random basis.

The names of the players are taken from the current squad lists and the current match schedules of the competition currently being ticked (here: the Men’s European Championship 2021, but normally the Men’s 1st Bundesliga). In this way, the bot generates often bizarre-looking live ticker messages for the current matches. By adding hashtags to the messages in the typical Twitter manner, which are made up of the acronyms of the teams involved, the live ticker messages generated in this way are mixed into the polyphonic soccer league discourse, which is also played by fans, clubs and editorial media and is bundled by these hashtags. I create special editions for the major tournaments, and there have also been special editions for smaller leagues, such as the Swiss Super League or the Women’s Soccer Bundesliga. In keeping with the spirit of Citizen Science, people familiar with the respective leagues have helped me, for example by providing me with typical Swiss jargon expressions and nicknames, which were then implemented in the algorithm.

With more than 1,000 followers from a wide variety of backgrounds, the bot has become quite popular and has been seen on many open stages, so to speak, even beyond the narrow scientific circus. It obviously accommodates the widespread love-hate relationship among soccer fans with the phrasiness of soccer coverage (Hauser/Meier 2018), and despite the bizarreness and sometimes incoherence of the generated texts, the tweets obviously hit the register-typical style so well that their recognition value is high. In short: The bot is funny and should be. I would also like to ascribe an artistic claim to the bot, since the underlying combinatorial principle is reminiscent of the text generations in the context of concrete poetry, which is finally also experiencing a revival in the form of Twitterbots (Schlesinger 2020). Beyond being a purely fun project, however, the bot definitely pursues serious goals, precisely by making the text generation transparent. The script for the bot is available on GitHub under a free license, and the collection of filler values can also be traced and reproduced via the corpora on soccer linguistics. The bot can thus make the computational linguistic task of text generation, which has long been used commercially in soccer reporting, methodologically transparent in a playful and entertaining setting. The methodological aspect is, so to speak, an offer that can be taken up by interested parties, but does not have to be. The bot is also sometimes read as a commentary on the media-critical discourse that is also being conducted on Twitter with a view to increasingly automated soccer reporting. I never intended it that way, but it is of course a legitimate and also interesting reading. Still others simply have fun with the live ticker reports, and probably the teary-eyed smiley is the most common reaction in the replies and retweets.

Let me entertain you

Not only do I think that’s fine, but I also see it as a nice recognition of my work, in pleasant contrast to the usual academic manners. On the open stage of the public humanities in social media, it is precisely such formats that combine entertainment, art and scientific aspirations that have their place and also a chance of success. If the goal of the public humanities is to reflect on the objects and methods of digital research in and with the public, then it should not close itself off to such entertaining formats.

This article is licensed under: CC-BY 4.0. When reusing, please include the rel=“canonical“ attribute in the link to the original post!

How to cite: Meier-Vieracker, Simon (2021): „Public Humanities as an open stage or: Why science in social media should also be fun“. In: Kolodzie, Lisa, Schumacher, Mareike, Seltmann, Melanie und Brenn, Daniel (eds.): Public Humanitieshttps://publicdh.hypotheses.org/96.

Literature

Hauser, Stefan/Meier, Simon (2018): „Das ist ’ne Phrase? Dann sind alles Phrasen!“ – Feste Wortverbindungen und ihre metapragmatische Thematisierung in der TV-Talkrunde Doppelpass. In: Aptum 2018 (2), S. 157–174.

Marx, Konstanze (2019): Von #Gänsehaut bis #esreicht – Wie lässt sich ein Territorium neuer Sagbarkeit konturieren? Ein phänomenologischer Zugang. In: Eichinger, Ludwig/Plewnia, Albrecht (Hg.): Neues vom heutigen Deutsch. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter. S. 245–264.

Meier, Simon (2017): Korpora zur Fußballlinguistik – eine mehrsprachige Forschungsressource zur Sprache der Fußballberichterstattung. In: Zeitschrift für germanistische Linguistik 45 (2), S. 345–349.

Meier, Simon (2019): Formulaic language and text routines in football live text commentaries and match reports – a cross- and corpus-linguistic approach. In: Callies, Marcus/Levin, Magnus (Hg.): Corpus approaches to the language of sport. Texts, media, modalities. London: Bloomsbury. S. 13–35. (= Research in Corpus and Discourse).

Meier, Simon (2020): Blogs, Bots & Co. – Public Humanities in den Sozialen Medien. In: Marx, Konstanze/Lobin, Henning/Schmidt, Axel (Hg.): Deutsch in Sozialen Medien. Interaktiv – multimodal – vielfältig. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter. S. 359–362. (= Jahrbuch des Instituts für Deutsche Sprache 2019).

Schlesinger, Claus-Michael (2020): Kafka stochastisch. Rekontextualisierung und Recodierung in computergestützten Textgeneratoren. In: Meier, Simon/Viehhauser, Gabriel/Sahle, Patrick (Hg.): Rekontextualisierung als Forschungsparadigma des Digitalen. Norderstedt: Books on Demand. S. 1–20. (= Schriften des Instituts für Dokumentologie und Editorik 14).


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