CIDRAL PGR Poster Competition

In 2022-2023 CIDRAL held its inaugural PGR poster competition. Any doctoral student registered in SALC was eligible to enter a poster that showcased an aspect of their research.

The following were chosen as the winning entries:

First Prize: Kelee M. Siat, Egyptology

Ancient Egypt and Sociological Analysis: Investigating the Feminine in Bronze Age Diplomatic Correspondence

The Amarna Letters (c. 1360-1332 BCE) are one of the key textual archives that documents the international affairs between the rulers and kings of Egypt and the wider Eastern Mediterranean and Near East. These texts identify an international social network consisting of male and female entities, royal and nonroyal. Previous academic interest in these texts centred on the male presence which focused on patriarchal power; however, the presence of female entities has been given little attention.

This research investigates the Amarna correspondence using an interdisciplinary method bridging Egyptology with sociological theory and methods. A mixed methods approach is used in terms of content and context. Content and textual analysis is used to identify gender categories and to contextualise the presence of female entities. Social network analysis (SNA) is used to visually represent these defined female entities within the discoverable social networks from diplomatic correspondence.

The value of interdisciplinary research is demonstrated by the unique visual SNA graphs that can categorise content rich data and show complex relationships between social entities identified within a text. By considering research that takes on wider methodological practices and sociological theory, it is possible to establish a more intimate look at the evidence and the presence of women within Bronze Age diplomatic correspondence.

Second Prize: Sarah Keirle, Music

The Animal Voice Within the Compositional Process

This poster explores the background and methodology of my interdisciplinary practice-based PhD exploring the use of animal communication, both sonic and behavioural, within electroacoustic composition (experimental music composed for playback over headphones or speakers) for the purpose of increasing listeners’ nature connection. These compositions were created using field recordings taken in collaboration with various conservation facilities and trusts, including Wildwood Trust, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Jersey Overseas Aid.

Nature connection, which is important for both fostering nature protective willingness and improving wellbeing, is nurtured by one’s experiences with nature, and virtual experiences can bypass real-world limitations to engage people creatively with the natural world and conservation issues. Sound, being not only an aural but a visual, tactile, and proprioceptive experience, is an effective medium through which to foster a sense of nature connection, especially within the realm of electroacoustic composition.

Animal sounds have a long history in many creative areas of human culture, including electroacoustic composition, but outside the realm of soundscapes, animal sound recordings have not often been chosen as the central source material for the purpose of engaging people with conservation.

The works composed during my PhD cannot be described wholly as soundscapes; instead of the ‘musical essence’ emerging from or being discovered within the recorded sounds, the aesthetics have been designed and inspired by the animal body and its movement, using tools from Smalley’s ‘Spectromorphology’ as a guide, this combining their sonic and behavioural communications.

The works in this portfolio are an attempt to use the electroacoustic medium to enhance the affective potential of animal sounds by combining them with animal behaviours and movements during sound processing, composing with transmodal perception in mind, and using space as a key compositional parameter. Through this compositional process, these works have the potential to increase a listener’s sense of nature connection.

Third Prize: Maksim Markelov, Russian and East European Studies

How do State Trolls Manipulate Online Discourse?

The language of public discourse in many countries has become much more intolerant (e.g., the UK during and post-Brexit, the US before, during and after Trump’s presidency) compared to what it used to be. The use of derogatory terms appears to have become a universal practice on social media as well.

In contemporary Russia, the language of intolerance is often taken to extremes by the state-controlled actors. Researchers have identified widespread use of derogatory terms in Russian government-controlled media and by Russian state officials, frequent aggression in Russian political YouTube as well as many instances of hate speech on social media. Several studies conducted on the topic further affirm that hate language, among other linguistic tactics, can be used intentionally to influence both domestic and foreign audiences on social media platforms.

Studies have shown that in 2020 at least 81 countries had organized social media manipulation programs or engaged in computational propaganda online. In most of the countries either governments, government affiliated entities, political parties or private firms used social media as a part of a common political strategy aimed at misleading users, suppressing political activism, and targeting opponents. These efforts pose a significant threat to the functioning of democratic institutions and have received a great deal of scholarly attention.

State-sponsored trolling is a relatively new phenomenon, that has attracted academic interest mainly in the fields of computer science (machine learning, neural networks, big data analysis), media studies and computational propaganda. Scholars have indicated that it is often ideological and occurs in authoritarian regimes to counter political opposition. This study employs mixed methods data analysis framework in which quantitative data analysis will inform a qualitative discourse analysis.

This includes case-study, critical discourse analysis, collocation analysis, a set of computational linguistics methods for studying texts (e.g., The Natural Language Toolkit in Python, Sketch Engine software), as well as tracing words’ use changes (Usage Fluctuation Analysis).

The study provides further insight into one of the most important instruments employed by computational propaganda (i.e., trolls’ use of language), and contributes to further improvement of social media platforms’ policies for the detection and moderation of content produced by such actors.