Computational International Relations: A Dip in Digital Research

“When was the last time we used Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)” is perhaps, an oxymoronic question. Because ICTs are a ubiquitous entity of the 21st century. Consequently, the other question is, when was the last time we used ICTs or digital devices for social sciences in general and for international relations and its strands in particular. The answer would be very vague and majority would proudly vouch for Microsoft (MS) Word or at maximum MS Excel in addition to some PDF-related stuff from Google search engine. The above argument is the reality in which we are living. The parallel reality is that not only the digital devices and ICTs can help automate our writing work, it can aid towards digital research as well. By digital research, it means Computational International Relations (CompIR) here.

The research community and the general audience of social sciences would be surprised over the research methods in social media. For they just consider it an interaction platform for socialising. However, it is the biggest source of harvesting data as far as open source intelligence is concerned.

CompIR is not an established jargon in the subject matter. However, it is a buzzword for dealing with stuff in social sciences and international relations vis-à-vis the accurate use of digital devices, software and different ICTs. The orthodox approach towards research or social inquiry rests upon the established scientific methods for both qualitative and quantitative researches. However, with the rise of ICTs, the digital research is taking the lead and disrupting the traditional notions of research. Common amongst them is Big Data which is being used to explain and understand the social phenomena. It would not be a surprise to share the voluminous work of SAGE Publications on social media research methods which was originally published in 2017. The said book covers comprehensive work on both qualitative and quantitative methods of research while incorporating tools like Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Data Mining and Geospatial Analysis among others. The research community and the general audience of social sciences would be surprised over the research methods in social media. For they just consider it an interaction platform for socialising. However, it is the biggest source of harvesting data as far as open source intelligence is concerned.

By 2016, the data being produced on social media combined from different platforms was surpassing the expressive capacity of humanity in the history of the world. What this goldmine of data holds for the researchers is a thirst that might get quenched. Hence, CompIR derives its sources primarily from the field of Computer Sciences and Software Engineering. At the same time, this gives rise to another dilemma of operational and definitional questions about these novel methods of study. These questions spark confusions like what other field of study one has to undertake to understand the contours of CompIR. Some are like what would be the required technical knowledge or coding in tandem with the already existing knowledge of social sciences and many others. Since CompIR is still in its infancy and it will further require operational definitions to conduct research. Likewise, the CompIR has also brought about not only the physical sciences closer to social sciences but literature as well. While undergoing narratives or discourse analysis or critical discourse analysis, linguistics have used language and text as a mode of qualitative research for understanding international relations.  However, with the advent of computational tools, quantitative research can be undertaken by analysing large amount of text. Now there are different softwares that are used as text mining tools like MeaningCloud, WordStat, etc.

The social media is the most debated entity in political quarters and traditional journalism as far as fake news, misinformation and cognition biases are concerned.

Mapping or geospatial analysis is also another component that plays an important role for analysing imagery, GPS and satellite photography as far as borders, geographies and space is concerned. Another name for the same analysis is Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The tools and software in the area of mapping allows visual systems to store geographic information. This information is then manipulated and analysed by mapping software. The best case in point is American usage of satellite imagery to analyse and measure as to what is happening inside North Korea and what health misinformation or disinformation is being propagated about the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his whereabouts. Such mapping techniques have become prominent in international relations literature as well as in social sciences because the GIS systems are now embedded into our smart phones and social media platforms.

As far as communication is concerned, digital technologies have revolutionised the realm of information processing. From analogue devices to digital calculations, the story of evolution now renders us with voice-based personal assistant offered by Google. These technologies have allowed us to simultaneously interact with every human enterprise may it be social, political and economic. The social media is the most debated entity in political quarters and traditional journalism as far as fake news, misinformation and cognition biases are concerned. The contours of inbound marketing in tandem with targeted audience have generated a specific stream of information for specific users. The information being consumed from online sources is different from the once consumed from other modes of information. This in turn has increased the clout of political polarisation. All this is linked with international relations and manifested itself as a state practice since the 2016 US Presidential Election. Moreover, key foreign policy actors are also using the power of social media to communicate, disseminate and create specific narratives.

The proponents of research and research methodology in Pakistan are far behind in the traditional concepts of adopting scientific methods for questions of inquiry, let alone diving into digital research.

Conclusively, this also adds that CompIR is not only related with the field of Computer Science but also with linguistics, psychology, geography, communication studies, etc. This is indeed moving towards adopting a more holistic approach towards interdisciplinary studies. Furthermore, it also requires a bare minimum of the requirement of the technical knowledge as well. In case of Pakistan, there is yet to be seen some in-depth academic work as far as CompIR is concerned. The proponents of research and research methodology in Pakistan are far behind in the traditional concepts of adopting scientific methods for questions of inquiry, let alone diving into digital research. The research designs need to be updated and embedded with the use of digital technologies to learn and equip for the 21st century.

Syed Ali Hadi

Syed Ali Hadi

Syed Ali Hadi is currently pursuing his M.Phil in Strategic Studies from National Defence University, Islamabad. He is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research.

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