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APSA Annual Meeting 2016

From the 1st to the 4th September, the 112th annual meeting of the American Political Science Association took place in Philadelphia (USA), with the topic "Great Transformations: Political Science and the Big Questions of Our Time." A SESL Research Assistant Daria Kharkina attended this conference.

Her area of interest is political polarization in the Russian media. She has presented the results of her studies at a number of various sociological conferences: for example, one of them was a Computational Social Science Winter Symposium in Cologne. Her project evolves all the time, and for this reason she needs to discuss it with specialists who work in different areas. Participation in this international conference has been an important event for our Research Assistant, and it allowed her to share the results of her research with the leading international experts in the area of political analysis.

The American Political Science Association has been founded in 1903, and since then, it remains a leading professional organization for studies of political processes. It unites over 13,000 members from 80 countries. This conference gathered several thousand researchers working in various areas, all with different research interests in the field of political science. Kimberly Morgan (George Washington University) and Deborah Shildkraut (Tufts University) were chairpersons of the conference. Over 30 sessions were taking place at the same time on a range of topics, from network analysis to new political science theories.

"I participated in the conference because I thought it would be very interesting from various standpoints: from the high quality of the submitted papers to the participant researchers. Before the conference, I regarded political studies as something distant and incomprehensible to me. However, as my research is partly connected to the political science, I needed to pick up a bit more of expert opinions and knowledge from the specialists."

Daria’s research attracted some interest because her study was focused on analyzing political polarization in the comments within various politically-minded groups on the Russian social network Vkontakte. In other words, the study was based on unique and up-to-date data taken directly from the Russian everyday life.

"Foreign researchers were discussing Vkontakte (VK) with me all the time, and they asked about it a lot, because VK is an infinite source of abundant and open data, which doesn’t exist abroad. Of course, I also discussed polarization in other countries, but in fact all other topics couldn’t compete with our discussions of VK."

Most of the conference participants resided in the USA, and for this reason the main emphasis was made on the US political events and the involved politicians. Quite often this provoked the European participants to argue, often heatedly, that interesting and research-worthy issues exist in other parts of the world as well; and the problem of attracting the European data was mentioned in many discussions.

In addition to the bias towards discussing the US-based issues, most of the researchers work with the materials in English, e.g. with English texts and headlines from the newspapers printed in English. As one of the European research teams pointed acidly, “you think that you study events while in fact you study The New York Times”.

Many presentations focused on the upcoming presidential elections in the United States. Particular attention was paid to an analysis of pre-election campaigns. For example, political scientists have observed a shift from quiet campaigns to more aggressive ones. Many researchers were wondering: would the voters change their opinion about their preferred candidate if they get a negative information about him from his competitors.

And, of course, Daria got an opportunity to stroll around Philadelphia and New York and to take many lovely snapshots. She has brought lots of interesting impressions and further research plans from her trips, and many small mementoes for her friends.

By Anastasia Kuznetsova