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Methods and Interactive Tools for Exploring the Semantics of Essentially Contested Concepts

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Political concepts are often characterised as “essentially contested” in the sense that their essential meanings are necessarily in dispute when we deploy them in adversarial political discourse. When tasked with precisely describe the meaning of an abstract word, modern lexicographers and computational linguists turn to a descriptive analysis of the term’s use in context, looking for statistical patterns of syntactic or window-based word co-occurrence in large collections of digital text. This talk presents an application of the tools of distributional semantics to the problem of delineating the various complex, multi-faceted, and value-laden meanings of abstract political concepts. I will demonstrate interactive applications developed to allow researchers in intellectual history to explore these conceptual structures in historical corpora. This work is carried out as part of The Concept Lab, an interdisciplinary research group based at CRASSH , Cambridge.

This talk is part of the Language Technology Lab Seminars series.

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