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Exploring social representations of adapting to climate change using topic modeling and Bayesian networks

Timothy Lynam, Reflecting Society; James Cook University, Department of Anthropology; CSIRO


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When something unfamiliar emerges or when something familiar does something unexpected people need to make sense of what is emerging or going on in order to act. Social representations theory suggests how individuals and society make sense of the unfamiliar and hence how the resultant social representations (SRs) cognitively, emotionally, and actively orient people and enable communication. SRs are social constructions that emerge through individual and collective engagement with media and with everyday conversations among people.
Recent developments in text analysis techniques, and in particular topic modeling, provide a potentially powerful analytical method to examine the structure and content of SRs using large samples of narrative or text.
In this paper I describe the methods and results of applying topic modeling to 660 micronarratives collected from Australian academics / researchers, government employees, and members of the public in 2010-2011. The narrative fragments focused on adaptation to climate change (CC) and hence provide an example of Australian society making sense of an emerging and conflict ridden phenomena.
The results of the topic modeling reflect elements of SRs of adaptation to CC that are consistent with findings in the literature as well as being reasonably robust predictors of classes of action in response to CC. Bayesian Network (BN) modeling was used to identify relationships among the topics (SR elements) and in particular to identify relationships among topics, sentiment, and action. Finally the resulting model and topic modeling results are used to highlight differences in the salience of SR elements among social groups.
The approach of linking topic modeling and BN modeling offers a new and encouraging approach to analysis for ongoing research on SRs.

Key words

Bayesian network modeling; climate change adaptation; narrative; sense making; social representations; text analysis; topic modeling

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087