from 08 to 10 December 2014
In Search of Cosmopolitan Data and Research Methods

At the heart of Ulrich Beck’s theory is the argument that an epistemological turn is needed in the social sciences: a turn from methodological nationalism towards methodological cosmopolitanism. The case has been made clear in various respects – especially from a sociological perspective. However, much investigation of cross-border, transnational and cosmopolitan phenomena has remained problematic: undeveloped and under-theorized, due to the methodological weaknesses of using a national approach.

Our workshop aims to start a conversation about ‘cosmopolitan data’ across the boundaries of social science disciplines and raise timely questions, such as are there distinct cosmopolitan methods? Is there a distinct combination of existing methods that turns research into being ‚cosmopolitan‘? What is the unit of cosmopolitan analysis? Or shall we speak of a cosmopolitan unit of analysis? Importantly, are there distinct cosmopolitan data? And, if so, how do they look and how are they to be generated?

The workshop which takes place over the course of two days is divided into three parts

Part 1: Approaches to cosmopolitan methodology

This first part will address ‘cosmopolitan data’ across the boundaries of social science disciplines. To do so, it provides an overview of theoretical premises of ‘methodological cosmopolitanism’ and ‘cosmopolitan theorizing’, as well as a critical overview over the state of the art of empirical studies arising from and inspired by methodological cosmopolitanism.

Methodological nationalism perceives of the nation-state as a bounded ‘‘container’’ for social phenomena that actually has a longer reach. Methodological nationalism also tends to equate the nation-state with society, which is a misconception because some constituting sources of society originate beyond national territory. Failing to use a cross-border and cosmopolitan framework also limits the ability to rescale social spaces and places (such as regions, cities or neighbourhoods) within the context of extra-national arrangements to analyse their relative significance at varying scales. Moreover, methodological nationalism tends to portray the nation and the state as ‘‘timeless and static,’’ amounting to standard models without recognition of their dynamic historical character, especially due to increasing fluidity, diversity, and interrelations and connections among peoples and cultures across social environments on the globe. Digital communication, for example, has shifted distance scales in socio-cultural terms, making Tokyo closer to London than to Siberia.

Methodological cosmopolitanism raises important issues that need to be considered in social research and theory, given the increasingly fluid, diverse, and globally interconnected character of many social environments across world regions.

Part 2: Methodologies of Big Data analysis in spheres of cosmopolitization

Big data analysis not only emerges as a new research area in sociology and political science but seems to implement a powerful methodological paradigm shift towards digital social sciences. Despite such an increasing implication on social research, it is surprising that academic debates have addressed big data analysis mainly in the contexts of ‘generation,’ ‘analysis’ and – this is a recent debate – the transformational implications of, for example, public policy and journalism.

However, such a paradigm shift requires a fundamental debate of specific methodologies which allow to intersect big data analysis with paradigms of social research. For example, conceptual frameworks are required which develop not only ethical standards but  methods for identifying ‘signifiers’, ‘contextualization,’ and the ‘embedding’ within conceptual frameworks of social and political analysis.

Such a debate is needed for digital analysis in order to further advance scholarship in this important growing new area within a new globalized field of social research and to develop approaches to critical analysis for identifying new scalar contextual ‘cosmopolitan’ relationships across scopes of data – beyond traditional units of national analysis.

Part 3: Interdisciplinary methodological cosmopolitanism: towards a Cosmo-Climate Observatory

The time has come to deepen the study of cosmopolitan sociology beyond a European context. As a core goal of our project, collective research in elucidating the social, economic and political dynamics of climate change in European, South American and East Asian contexts is an important step towards building and testing a truly transnational social research infrastructure.

Within the framework of Ulrich Beck’s ERC project, we will bring methodological cosmopolitanism to a more systematic elucidation, as supported by rich empirical data generated in transnational collaboration. We further propose two methodological initiatives: developing a ‘Cosmo-Climate Observatory’ and confronting the challenges of interdisciplinary dialogue.

(1) Developing a ‘Cosmo-Climate Observatory’: Working in close cooperation and continuous knowledge exchange with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research has made it obvious how important a reorientation of data analysis in light of the ‘methodological cosmopolitanism’ is. Consequently a ‘Cosmo-Climate Observatory’ will be created to test empirically the interdisciplinary cosmopolitan approach and to invite other natural and social scientific researchers to benefit from these data sets. The Cosmo-Climate Observatory will be a comprehensive database and online platform that enables the project to generate dynamic maps of the sociological landscapes in which important climate change actors move. As such, the observatory responds to the challenge of developing a new set of social research practices in order to produce and process data that enables an up-to-date ‘dialogical cosmopolitan’ analysis of climate change (cosmo)politics. The maps generated by observatory data will capture the nature and form of actors’ activities, their (self) interpretations, their various global connections, as well as how their ideas, practices and interests are enmeshed. Web-based techniques of summarizing and representing data will enable us to visualise these cosmopolitan dynamics. As such, the Cosmo-Climate Observatory will support the work of Work Packages as it enables us to generate innovative data that is ‘cosmopolitan’ in its nature, in that it goes beyond the boundaries of both nation-states and established disciplines. At the same time, it will be a unique database-platform that invites other natural and social scientific researchers to benefit from these data-sets as well as from the findings of the three Work Packages more generally. It is an important and innovative tool for fostering interdisciplinary dialogues and for ensuring broad impact of our project, in and beyond our distinct Work Packages.

The Cosmo-Climate Observatory will be established through a combination of the following five interrelated data-generating and data-processing strategies:

(a)         Qualitative comparisons: data generated by the in-depth case studies in each of the Work Packages – on urban climate initiatives, low-carbon innovation, and cosmopolitical staging events – will be analysed and turned into comparable findings based on notable similarities and differences. This will enable us to identify key contextual factors – social, economic, political – that account for the relative successes (or otherwise) of different initiatives, actors, and events.

(b)         Statistical data-mining: for each of the three Work Packages, existing statistical data-sets (e.g. World Values Survey; COMPON[1]) will be scrutinized for relevant data. Such data may help elucidate differences in and between Europe and East Asia in terms of, for instance, environmental attitudes; media discourses of climate change; and networks of policy-influence. To the extent that data lends itself to being reinterpreted in terms of cosmopolitan risk communities, it will be collected, summarized and made available in the Cosmo-Climate Observatory.

(c)          Crowd sourcing: crowd sourcing technologies have been developed by groups of journalists, activists and IT developers – and used, for instance, by ordinary citizens of Kenya to gather reports, via mobile phones, on incidents of violence in the 2008 post-election fallout. As part of the Cosmo-Climate Observatory, we aim to pioneer similar methods for social scientific purposes, geared towards generating data from around the world on public perceptions of climate change. Producing social science data via crowd sourcing means to overcome social and geographical restrictions: data may be submitted by anyone, in any language, at any time, through means such as mobile phones. Rather than reflecting pre-determined frameworks, working with such data on social perceptions of climate change will allow us to overcome ‘European’ biases of representation and interpretation.

(d)         Systematic web-crawling: digital methods will be used in order to track developments in global public discussions on the scientific, economic, and political dimensions of climate change. Such methods will be valuable, for instance, in studying the emergence of public engagement with issues of low-carbon innovation, both locally and trans-nationally.

(e)         Interdisciplinary synthesis of data: as a sociological research endeavour, this project does not aim to generate independent data on the natural and technical dimensions of climate change. However, as part of the Cosmo-Climate Observatory, our social scientific findings will be put into the context of, and – to the extent possible – synthesized with, relevant available data on the natural and technical dimensions of climatic changes, e.g. as pertaining to specific cities or regions.

Combining these different data-generating and data-processing strategies will allow us to produce a comprehensive and innovative dataset, which spans both qualitative and quantitative data. It relies on samples that stretch widely across the globe, particularly covering the regions of Europe, South America and East Asia as this is our main focus. The cosmopolitan data innovation will be developed in the contexts of the Work Packages, before being synthesized and further analysed in the Observatory. Taken together, the various social-scientific methods represent a mixture of ‘old’ and ‘new’, combining well-established and tested procedures (ethnography; surveys) with more innovative and cross-cutting approaches (crowd sourcing; web-crawling). The collection of new data and the innovative enmeshment of existing data-sets – which our Cosmo-Climate Observatory will make possible – in itself responds to the challenges of methodological cosmopolitanism. ‘Cosmopolitan data’ will need to be generated beyond the boundaries of both nation-states and established disciplines, and this task calls for both new approaches and innovative ways of combining established methods. As such, the Observatory lays the foundation for addressing the overarching challenge of methodological cosmopolitanism: what ‘cosmopolitan data’ means in epistemological, sociological and practical terms.

Developing the Cosmo-Climate Observatory will require (1) dedicated research positions on methods and (2) an interdisciplinary debate traversing the boundaries of sociology, anthropology, social geography, communication studies and the different climate sciences. Drawing together a group of experts in these various fields will ensure that our cosmopolitan methods are robust and appropriate. Above and beyond, the Cosmo-Climate Observatory will serve as a general model for social research seeking to adequately respond to the dynamics of contemporary cosmopolitization.

[1] COMPON (Comparing Climate Change Policy Networks) is an international research project on differences in media coverage and structures of political influence in 15 countries, including several in Europe and East Asia. Statistical data is just starting to become publicly available and will be scrutinized for their usefulness in the present project. 



Venue : La Maison Suger
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