University of Bamberg

The Social Scientist 2.0

Paving the Way in Computational Methods
Author: Patricia Achter,

Carsten Schwemmer is explaining computer-aided processes to a group of 25 graduate students participating in a Summer Institute in Bamberg. He is speaking English to accommodate the participating social and data scientists who have come to Bamberg from all over the world.

In his presentation, the 32-year-old German addresses various methods including automated text analysis and digital field experiments. “We’re currently experiencing a revolution in the field of computational methods,” says Schwemmer, who until 2019 was a research assistant in Political Sociology at the University of Bamberg and now works as a visiting postdoctoral researcher at the Bamberg Graduate School of Social Sciences (BAGSS).

“The potential in these methods is enormous, because they enable us to analyse a huge volume of data. Automated analyses of texts and images reveal how people behave online – how, for example, the strategies employed by right-wing populist movements are changing.”

In his dissertation, Carsten Schwemmer examined, among other things, the Facebook posts of the right-wing populist and Islamophobic Pegida movement. Online communication has become increasingly radical: at the beginning of 2015, Pegida mainly called for demonstrations. Over the course of time, more and more articles on the supposed Islamization of Germany have been published.

An International Work Environment

Above all, Schwemmer credits the Bamberg Graduate School of Social Sciences (BAGSS) with the fact that he and his University of Bamberg colleagues were able to organise and host the August 2019 Summer Institute in Computational Social Science (SICSS).

Doctoral candidates at the Bamberg Graduate School of Social Sciences (BAGSS).
Carsten Schwemmer (left) hosted the Summer Institute in Computational Social Science for the first time in Bamberg in August 2019.

Since 2010, the school has provided a structured working and educational environment for international doctoral candidates at the University of Bamberg. Not only did BAGSS provide the majority of funding for the Summer Institute, it also sponsored Schwemmer’s participation in the main 2018 SICSS event at Duke University in North Carolina. It was there that he learned to analyse texts quantitatively, a method that is fast becoming an indispensable research tool in a diverse range of fields, including not only history, sociology, and the digital humanities, but also spanning security applications, biomedicine, politics, and economics.

Carsten Schwemmer offers an impressive vision of what modern social sciences can be
Prof. Andreas Jungherr, University of Konstanz

Following his participation last year, he had the honour of organising this year’s Summer Institute at the University of Bamberg and hosting colleagues from 11 international partner universities.

Faculty of Social Sciences, Economics, and Business Administration

Professors: 44

Research Assistants: 166 (68 of whom are women)

Close Cooperation: with Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS, Institute for Employment Research (IAB)

Focal Research Topics: Economic and political decisions, company organisation, management, innovation, production and logistics, capital and financial markets, Europeanisation and globalisation, governance, state and political action, labor market, education, demography, family, social inequality, statistics and methods development, social theory

Teaching Opportunities in English: B.A./M.A. Political Science, B.A./M.A. Sociology, B.Sc./M.Sc. Business Administration, B.Sc./M.Sc. International Business Administration, M.Sc. European Economic Studies

Find out more about the Faculty of Social Sciences, Economics, and Business Administration

Digitalisation Creates Opportunities

“BAGSS provided more than just financial support during my doctoral studies,” says Schwemmer. “The school also offers things like methods courses and a weekly research colloquium for social scientists.” This colloquium provides a forum in which doctoral candidates can present their research and offer each other feedback.

The dissertation was the first in our department that systematically applied computational methods
Prof. Dr. Marc Helbling, dissertation supervisor

They also discussed Schwemmer’s dissertation. As a master’s student in sociology, he had already begun specialising in computational methods, and this enabled him to conduct quantitative substudies aimed at investigating whether women and ethnic minorities are being discriminated against online.

“The dissertation was the first in our department that systematically applied computational methods,” says social scientist and primary dissertation supervisor Professor Marc Helbling. The dissertation was also supervised by Thomas Saalfeld and Kai Fischbach, professors of political science and information systems, respectively.

In quantitative partial studies, Carsten Schwemmer has investigated whether women are disadvantaged on the internet.

New Methods in the Social Sciences

“One challenge of the dissertation was that computationally intensive processes in the social sciences are only now beginning to take root – even at the University of Bamberg,” explains Schwemmer. For this reason, he acquired the necessary computer science knowledge partly on his own and partly by attending advanced training workshops in Germany and abroad.

The funding for these workshops was mainly provided by the IPID4all program. According to Schwemmer, the challenges also represented a great opportunity: “I was able to contribute to the introduction of new methods at the University of Bamberg.” Today, the core curriculum for all political science students includes the programing language R.

Substitute Professor Without a Doctoral Degree

Not only the University of Bamberg has profited from Schwemmer’s IT knowledge; in the 2018/19 winter semester, he substituted for Andreas Jungherr, assistant professor of Social Science Data Collection and Analysis at the University of Konstanz. So how does a young scholar without a completed doctoral degree find himself in such a position? Jungherr explained the decision saying: “Considering his research and courses, especially on automated text analysis, Carsten Schwemmer offers an impressive vision of what modern social sciences can be.” His expertise in digital methodology was also in demand at the Weizenbaum Institute in Berlin, where he worked as a project collaborator in 2019.

Bamberg Graduate School of Social Sciences (BAGSS)

Founded: 2010

Doctoral Fellows: 109 (of whom 72 are women and 20 are international fellows)

Language of Instruction: English

Subject Areas: empirical social and human sciences with an emphasis on research methods and statistics and a focus on empirical educational and labor-market studies, political science, international relations, and sociology

Close Cooperation with:

  • Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories (LIfBi)
  • Institute for Employment Research (IAB) Nuremberg
  • Other leading universities in Germany and Europe

Find out more about Bamberg Graduate School of Social Sciences

Interdisciplinary Cooperation

Despite his particular knowledge and individual skill set, Carsten Schwemmer is by no means an academic lone wolf. He has published most of his work with co-authors from various disciplines and institutions, among them sociologists, political scientists, computer scientists, and economists. These colleagues work at places like the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, the Global Migration Data Analysis Centre in Berlin, and Oxford University. Some of them have even been guests at the University of Bamberg.

Thanks to a BAGSS grant, Schwemmer was able to organise a guest lecture by Professor Brandon Stewart, a text analysis expert from Princeton University. And it was Stewart who encouraged Schwemmer to apply to Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy – he worked there for a year, before becoming a postdoctoral researcher in Computational Social Sciences at the GESIS Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences in Cologne in October 2020. He remains connected to the University of Bamberg as a visiting researcher.

“I’m very happy that I can keep contributing to the research at Bamberg,” Schwemmer says. “In addition to being able to continue existing collaborations, I am also on the lookout for joint funding opportunities in the field of Computational Social Sciences.”

Members of all four faculties at the University of Bamberg cooperate in the Digital Humanities, Social and Human Sciences research focus area towards the goal of developing innovative information technologies and testing digital solutions for research in participating disciplines.

More about Carsten Schwemmer

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