About the Project

DIY Discourse: Analyzing Big Data from Social Media Communities is a collaborative research project of the University of North Dakota English and Computer Science departments. Broadly, our research analyzes the relationship between expert and amateur discourse communities by mining the social media website reddit.

Dr. Dave Haeselin seeks to understand how the usage of technical language and jargon in amateur discourse communities compares to the expert research literature. Popular subreddits (community conversations in reddit subdivided by a specific interest) such as r/depression inspire an intense feeling of community support and participation in their users; by analyzing the range, frequency, and complexity of these conversations, Dr. Haeselin hopes to understand how amateur communities attempt to achieve comparable results to psychotherapy and/or professional counseling. In essence, Dr. Haeselin hypothesizes that the act of reading and writing about physic trauma in a group setting online helps users in these subreddits process their pain in ways that productively blend expert and amateur strategies. To that end, Dr. Haeselin hopes to use this examination to better understand how contemporary novelists adopt similarly blended strategies for responding to psychological issues in non-expert ways.

Dr. Christopher Basgier investigates the extent to which redditors who write about books, literature, and writing use the same rhetorical “moves” as academic experts who write about those same topics. In particular, he has investigated the subreddit r/books, looking at the resemblance between users’ comments and the well-established rhetoric of literary criticism—that is, the moves literary critics make in their scholarly writing. By tagging and analyzing user comments, Dr. Basgier hopes to learn not only how often redditors employ the rhetoric of literary criticism when writing about books, but also how they adapt that rhetoric, as well as new rhetorical moves they develop within their own communities. This research should have significant implications for understanding the porous boundaries between professional academic and popular culture rhetorics. As well, Dr. Basgier hopes to investigate the pedagogical potential in helping students see the shifts required in writing for different contexts—even about the same context.

This type of analysis brings big data sets into the purview of a variety of different debates across the humanities. Since these subreddits are primarily textual communities, understanding the precise ways reading and writing build personal connection should interest textual studies scholars and rhetoricians interested in the linguistic dynamics of community building. Moreover, the specific work of various types of language in the treatment of depression responds to the field of affect theory central to many conversations in English, philosophy, and history scholarship. Finally, this project contributes to thinking about the role of the fan/amateur in do-it-yourself (DIY) or “maker” culture. Many social media rely upon the collaborative construction of meaning, but the subreddits we study illustrate particular instances of group meaning-making designed around a pragmatic purpose.

This collaborative project involves Dr. Chris Basgier and Dr. Dave Haeselin from English, Dr. Travis Desell in Computer Science. The construction of the interface, web design, and database backbone for the project represents Jared Estad’s undergraduate capstone research project.