Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
Social Complexities and Digital World
Thursday, 19/Mar/2020:
9:00am - 10:30am

Session Chair: Ilva Skulte
Location: Hall D
Level -1

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Short Paper (10+5min)

Intergenerational Justice as a Topic in the Discourse on Greta Thunberg and the School Strikes in Norwegian Mainstream and Social Media

Dag Elgesem, Andrea Kronstad Felde

University of Bergen, Department of Information Science and Media Studies, Norway


Thunberg and the school strikes have brought into focus the generational perspectives of the climate crises, arguing that the older generation violate the rights of future generations to avoid the harmful consequences of climate change. Thunberg’s message is that 1) we are facing climate change that will have catastrophic consequences for future generations, 2) future generations are entitled to a future without these harms, and 3) the generation(s) now in charge have an obligation to secure this right. The slogans in the school strikes convey the same messages.

This echoes claims philosophers have put forward about intergenerational justice arguing that future generations have a right to be protected from the uncompensated and potentially catastrophic harms that climate change might impose on their livelihoods and life opportunities.

Taking the philosophical arguments as our starting point, we investigate how and to what extent discussions about Thunberg and the school strikers in Norwegian media, blogs and on Facebook are concerned with the rights and responsibilities of generations in the context of of climate change.

Research questions

We have three research questions.

- How salient is the topic of intergenerational relations in the discourse on Greta Thunberg and the school strikes in Norwegian media, public Facebook pages, and in blogs?

- What are the characteristics features of representation of intergenerational relations in Norwegian media, public Facebook pages and blogs?

- To what extent do the discourses explicitly refer to the question of intergenerational justice?

Theoretical perspectives: moral responsibilities and future generations

We start by outlining influential philosophical arguments and justifications for the rights of future generations. In particular, we focus on the role of intergenerational altruism, which is the idea is that one generation (the older) has an interest in giving (saving) resources to another generation (the younger). This is particularly relevant when the generations are overlapping, as in the present case.


Our data set covers the period from March to August 2019 (6 months) and has three parts: 1) the articles in Norwegian news media that mention Thunberg and the school strikers, 2) all public Facebook posts in Norwegian mentioning Greta Thunberg, 3) all Norwegian blogs that mention Greta Thunberg.

We downloaded the blogs and the Facebook posts via the API provided by, and we accessed the news material via

We used manual coding of a selection of articles, posts and blogs to identify terms that were characteristic of the discussion of the relations between generations. We identified 20 key terms that we used in the search for relevant articles:

Key terms:


rettighet|håp|arve| ta over|svik|kommer etter|voksne|demonstr*|overta|krav|


Our experiments showed that these key terms more reliably identified relevant articles and posts than other methods, like topic modeling.

We combine standard methods of text analysis using R with manual coding to answer the research questions.


To determine the salience of the topic of intergenerational relations we searched for news articles Facebook posts and blog posts that contained at least one occurrence of one of the key terms. We found that, of the 3.553 news articles that mention Thunberg and the school strikes 2.356 mentioned generational relations. In contrast, of the 762 facebook posts mentioning Thunberg only 247 were concerned with the issue of generation. 132 blog posts, out of 169, mentioned the key terms.

Analyzing the distribution of the 20 key terms across the documents we find that the distributional patterns are quite similar between the three corpuses. The three most frequent terms are ‘barn’, ‘unge’, ‘ungdom’ in all three, and the terms ‘håp’, ‘fremtid’, ‘generasjon’ have the same relativ e frequencies in the corpuses.

In the analysis of the characteristics of the discourse on the generational relations in news outlets, blogs and Facebook, we focus first on the coverage with the 478 different publishers. Here we find significant differences between the news outlets. The paper with the most articles about Thunberg and the strikes is Aftenposten but only 33 percent of their articles is about the generational relations. With Dagsavisen, the third most active publisher of stories about Thunberg, 90 percent of the articles focus on the generational topic. In contrast, both the very right wing online news source Resett and the left-wing newspaper Klassekampen covered Tunberg extensively, but only one third of their articles was concerned with generations: Resett is more concerned with Thunberg as political figure while Klassekampen is more concerned with questions related to climate change and less with Thunberg herself.

We then go on to compare how the posts of the different Facebook pages and blogs engage with the generational issue. We find that the most active blogger on Thunberg is a climate skeptic who criticizes her supporters. On Facebook, in contrast, the most active contributors to the the discourse on the generational issue are the environmental organizations.

As a next step, we look at the n-grams, collocations and key-ness of the key terms in the different media. We argue that the patterns of characteristic n-grams and collocations in the three media show that the key terms, to a large extent, are used to make claims related to intergenerational issues.

We then use salient n-grams as a basis for a qualitative analysis of a selection of arguments that explicitly refer to the issue of intergenerational justice, as in these examples (our translations):

“It is our ancestors who are to blame for this, but it is us who will be left with all the consequences. I think it is a bit unfair.” (student on strike)

"It is our grandchildren who are going to inherit the globe we are about to destroy, so they are the ones to listen to.» (grandparent)


In the concluding discussion we return to the similarities and differences between the philosophical discourse on intergenerational justice and the claims and arguments we find in the media discourse on Thunberg and the climate strikers. In much of this latter discourse there seems to be an underlying assumption that the younger generation can legitimately require of the older generation that they shall take efficient measures to mitigate dangerous climate change. We suggest that, while explicit justifications for the claims about intergenerational justice are relatively rare in the media discourse, the idea of intergenerational altruism probably motivate many of the contribution to the discourse.

Long Paper (20+10min)

Tracing Complexity in Food Blogging Entries

Maija Kāle1, Ebenezer Agbozo2

1University of Latvia, Latvia; 2Ural Federal University, Russia

Food consumption is a complex phenomenon involving many aspects that are easier or harder to be captured, one of them being eating habits that are partly determined by unconscious choice mechanisms (Mai et al, 2011). To large extent it presumes favoring nourishing, calorie rich foods over others, creating a situation that among the most urgent health issues to solve in this world are obesity, life-style determined Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and other illnesses related to food and lifestyle in general. With a growing digital consumption that entails rich representation of food (food items, cooking lessons, food shows, plating aesthetics) humans are more and more exposed to food images and descriptions, which in turn impacts the way we think about the food and the way we consume it. One of the most interesting phenomena when discussing food related decisions is complexity (Spence et al, 2018). The more complex the food, the more likeable it is – and the more documented the story of complexity, the more expensive the food can get (Mccall and Lynn, 2008). Within this paper, we focus on complexity and how it is represented in food blogging entries. We turn specific attention to complexity capture when looking at healthy and unhealthy foods, testing the hypothesis that healthy foods are represented as less complex and, thus, less likable than unhealthy foods. With this paper we add to the knowledge body of food representation in digital media and adhere with the focus point of DHN 2020: Digital language resources (e.g. historical texts, parliamentary records, speech and multimodal corpora, social media data, etc.) and tools for digital humanities and social sciences (e.g. linking data across domains, media and languages).

Long Paper (20+10min)

Distant Reading of Religious Online Communities: A Case Study for Three Religious Forums on Reddit

Thomas Schmidt, Florian Kaindl, Christian Wolff

Media Informatics Group, University of Regensburg, Germany

We present results of a project examining the application of computational text analysis and distant reading in the context of comparative religious studies, sociology, and online communication. As a source for our corpus, we use the popular platform Reddit and three of the largest religious subreddits: the subreddit Christianity, Islam and Occult. We have acquired all posts along with metadata for an entire year resulting in over 700,000 comments and around 50 million tokens. We explore the corpus and compare the different online communities via measures like word frequencies, bigrams, collocations and sentiment and emotion analysis to analyze if there are differences in the language used, the topics that are talked about and the sentiments and emotions expressed. Furthermore, we explore approaches to diachronic analysis and visualization. We conclude with a discussion about the limitations but also the benefits of distant reading methods in religious studies.

Short Paper (10+5min)

New Empirical Resources for the Study of Contemporary Preaching – Presenting a Danish Sermon Corpus through Two Cases on Cultural Conformity and Representation of Christian Concepts

Anne Agersnap, Kirstine Helboe Johansen, Uffe Schjødt, Kristoffer Laigaard Nielbo, Ross Deans Kristensen-McLachlan

Aarhus University, Denmark

Pastors within the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark (ELCD) continually produce an enormous religio-cultural text material, when they write their weekly sermons. These sermons are individually prepared; but they are also the product of a communal practice, since pastors prepare them synchronically within the same national context. This text material thus contains valuable and comprehensive knowledge regarding pastors’ representation, interpretation and engagement with respectively biblical, historical and contemporary narratives.

The growing field of Digital Humanities has paved the way for new methods to study sermons as collective text productions. Through computational tools, it has provided pertinent approaches to detect text components containing cultural information and their connections in large corpora.

We have therefore constructed a corpus of 11955 contemporary Danish sermons written from 2011-2016 by pastors in the ELCD. With this paper, we present this newly established corpus and introduce two analytical cases; they illustrate how the corpus can be utilized to explore core questions regarding the pastoral preaching to congregations. Case 1 presents a study on gender constructions and emphasizes cultural conformity as a pertinent aspect of preaching. In case 2, we explore how pastors through key theological concepts activate the Christian symbolic system in contemporary sermons.

Sermons: Genre and research approaches

A sermon represents a unique oral event carried out by a specific pastor of a specific parish at a specific time. Once the pastor steps down from the pulpit, the content of that individual sermon is no longer directly accessible, neither to the congregants nor to the researcher. This transient nature of sermons complicates a systematic study of general themes and discourses conveyed by pastors of the ELCD.

Recent decades of sermon studies have accommodated research designs to study this performativity of preaching. Based on primarily observational studies and interviews, much research has focused on congregants’ and pastors’ experience of the transmitted sermon content. This has significantly improved our understanding of preaching as a form of ritual communication between pastors and congregants. Meanwhile, though sermons are intended to be performed in church, they are typically highly scripted, as pastors carefully prepare them in the week before the service – most often in the form of written manuscripts. These documents contain valuable knowledge; not only about dialogues between pastor and congregants, but especially about pastors’ dialogues with various cultural sources – such as biblical texts, news, literature, television etc. – that confront pastors during the preparation of their sermons. This requires a focus on the transmitted content itself; on sermons as texts containing pivotal knowledge about pastors’ engagement with religious, historical and contemporary culture.

To explore the content of sermons, previous qualitative studies have focused on few written sermons by specific pastors. Yet, the ELCD produces between 1500-2000 sermons on a weekly basis, so analyses of few individual contributions are unlikely to reveal any insights on the nature of ELCD sermons on a broader spectrum. Indeed, how Danish pastors collectively represent major cultural themes, events and discourses in sermons is largely unknown.

This calls for a need to integrate digital resources in the study of contemporary sermons. In this endeavour, especially corpus linguistic practices have provided pertinent solutions in regards to archiving and analysing our corpus of 11.955 sermon manuscripts; all written for church services in the ELCD by pastors beforehand. From metadata annotations, we can recapture the external contexts of the sermons with focus on pastor, location and time and thus explore whether these factors explain content. In the study of sermons, time must be approached from two perspectives. On the one hand, sermons adhere to a linear timeline, as they are prepared anew every week and thus prone to absorb themes and events from pastors’ immediate surroundings. But they also adhere to a cyclical timeline, since pastors are expected to interpret biblical passages that are officially prescribed by the ELCD and reoccurring on yearly basis. Both dimensions are reflected in the metadata of the corpus through information on specific date as well as name of holiday.

However, to understand what influences representations of themes and discourses in sermons, we need to understand first how these are textually constructed. Linguistic annotations and semantic network analysis can provide access to such content and their semantic structures. In the following cases, we will focus on these approaches.

Case 1: Gender discourse

In our first case, we demonstrate an approach to uncover discursive themes from linguistic information in order to understand how pastors represent discourses on gender in sermons.

In 2014 a counting disclosed that the gender balance among Danish pastors had shifted with an overweight of 55,9 % female pastors. Nevertheless, explicit discussions on theology and gender in public debates are not prominent among Danish pastors compared to other – especially Nordic – Lutheran countries, where feminist theologies are thriving. Thus, gaining insights into gender discourses in a Danish theological context requires uncovering them implicitly. The sermon corpus presents pertinent data for this endeavour, as it is a rich text collection, in which pastors willingly or unwillingly construct gender since distinguishing binarily between male and female gender is an innate feature of Danish language. From a POS-tagged version of the sub-corpus, we extracted collocations of gendered pronouns in subject or object position (he, she, him, and her) and associated verb within a sentence. This process revealed that pastors mention male characters approximately six times as frequently as female characters. To measure the associative relationship between verb and gendered pronoun, we calculated a pointwise mutual score on every verb in relation to each of the four pronouns. Based on inductive codings of the verbs in relation to pronouns, we find that males tend to have more distinct, but diverse roles (either authoritative or victimized) compared to female agents, who carry more diffuse and varied roles. This indicate that female agents are less remarkable or central characters in the corpus.

Case 2: Love and sin

The sermon corpus further constitutes a unique source for uncovering how the symbolic system of Christianity unfolds in contemporary preaching practices. In our second case, we explore this aspect of preaching, as we demonstrate how semantic network analysis can provide knowledge about pastors’ utilization of Christian concepts and their conceptualization in the corpus. We focus specifically on the concepts “love” and “sin” and their respective associative structure. Both concepts are central Christian concepts, but their incorporation in contemporary preaching seems to deviate, as love is represented far more often than sin in the sermons; love is the 98th most frequent word in the corpus, whereas sin is number 492. From the semantic network analysis, we find two rather separate networks around each concept. The words around “sin” illustrate negative actions that can be understood as either preconditions for sin such as “trespassing”, or consequences of sin, such as “atone” or “punishment”. “Love” is characterized entirely by positive connotations, such as “devotion”, “unlimited”, “generosity”, and “mercy” describing love as a state of carefree idyllic being. Though the semantic network distinguishes the two concepts “love” and “sin” rather clearly, “forgiveness”, a term primarily associated with “love”, become a mediating concept between love and sin. This indicates a narrative structure of a movement from sinfulness as a temporary state of being to love as an eternal one. Based on the raw word count as well as the associative structure of both concepts, our findings thus suggest that love is a considerable more pertinent concept compared to sin in contemporary Danish preaching.


From the two analytical cases, we wish to emphasise how digital methods provide new and pertinent resources for the study of contemporary sermons. The methodological endeavours for this corpus has been to find approaches to gain intimate knowledge about aspects concerning pastors’ dialogues with Christianity and culture. In this effort, corpus linguistics facilitate a systematic approach to capture textual components of which cultural discourse is build. Further, semantic network analysis enables uncovering conceptualizations in a genre, where activating and interpreting specific themes and concepts are of the essence. Though both methods imply removing terms from their immediate contexts within the corpus, they allow for detailed knowledge about specific text components; both approaches entail re-reading our distant readings closely, as we study how the extracted textual components are embedded semantically in the corpus. Through these rather qualitative readings of collocations and networks, we find potential for establishing “thick descriptions” of repetitive structures within comprehensive data. When working on a large corpus of full texts never read before, we have found it important to find various methods that can help us getting to know this particular text collection. For this purpose, the shift between distant and close readings seems promising.

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