Films Conscript Interesting Life-Styles to Serve a Plot – or about Humane Scientists and Sciences As the Great Adventure of Our Time

Monday, 11 July 2016: 15:15
Location: Hörsaal 14 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Christian SCHNEIJDERBERG, University of Kassel, Germany
Films in sociology are understood as visual forms, in which societies or groups in societies are being presented or represent themselves (Denzin 2003). However, the visual, the moving images are only one element of films; a second, neglected element of sociological film analysis are texts. Spoken words by actors support the visual of a film and vice versa. Sociology has a long tradition of document, discourse and sociolinguistic analysis which could be applied to text written down in film scripts as well. Nevertheless these valuable qualitative methods are limited in scope. Large amounts of texts can be explored and analyzed with text mining methods like topic modeling (Blei 2012; Blei et al. 2003).

Using a database with more than 600 films and scripts from 1925 to 2015 from a wide variety of genres (action, science-fiction, comedy etc.) topic modeling was applied to meta-analyze the social knowledge about science, scientists and universities in films, to discover which topics exist in these films, how these topics are connected and how these topics change over time. For instance, we find that more stereotypes than „power maniacs and unethical geniuses“ (Weingart et al. 2003) are used to portray scientists in films. Scientists are important to generate key actors (e.g. bio-engineer ‚Captain America‘), explore new worlds (e.g. ‚Interstellar‘), discuss ethical issues beyond the sciences (e.g. ‚Manhattan Project‘), and are funny guys (e.g. ‘Flubber’).

Topic modeling will be complemented by a qualitative content analysis. An in-depth analysis of typical examples of film scenes will be used to combine the text and visual analysis. The presentation will also reflect on the ambiguity expressed in the title – consisting of three quotes from Crichton (1999) in Science – and be concluded by discussing the limitations of this methodological triangulation to analyzing and interpreting films from a sociological perspective.