How large were the protests against President Putin in Moscow in December 2011 really? Are two state leaders close when relations between the two states are good? How much emotionality does a political actor exude in speeches? Such questions are posed at the new interdisciplinary Center for Social Science Image Analysis (CIASS) at the University of Konstanz, which focuses on visual information such as images and videos.
Subtle information from images and videos
While empirical political science has traditionally relied on data collection methods such as survey data, statistical data such as election results, or textual data such as political speeches, visual material has rarely been used for political science research. Yet images can be of particular interest to researchers: Subtle information can often be gleaned from them that is difficult to capture using traditional methods.
In this way, the center develops methods that make estimates of the local density of a crowd on the basis of images of protest events, which in turn are combined to produce an estimate of the total number of protest participants. It also examines whether good or bad relations between states can be gleaned from images of their heads of state. Last but not least, facial expressions and gestures of speakers - important sources of information for the audience - will be used to measure the emotions of political actors.
Closing a research gap
Visual material is also often comprehensible across different international contexts. "We are convinced that through CIASS we can close an existing gap in the research landscape and make important contributions to the advancement of novel measurement methods in the social sciences" says political scientist Prof. Dr. Nils Weidmann.