Sören Stapel

German-speaking political science and social media

Social Media Bandwagon
Source: Matt Hamm / Photopin / cc

Two months ago, the German-speaking blogosphere organized a blog carnival, directly following the Zeitschrift für Internationale Beziehungen’s symposium on the web 2.0. and social media in the International Relations profession. In the symposium, social media were approached as both an object of study, and a professional means to network and reach out to the general public. The symposium called for a reaction from the various German-speaking bloggers. And we got them. My initially planned contribution to the carnival never materialized when the work plate simply got swamped with editorial work on an edited volume, reviews of a book chapter, a data collection project, the preparation of field research, and me actually being on field research mission. So, this blog post should be considered a late addition to this little party.

Some of the contributions fleshed out part and parcel of bloggers’ experiences in general. Others reflected on the late arrival of German speakers to the use of social media for professional concerns and possible (negative) consequences (see Ali’s intro and collection of links, in German). Yet, it strikes me that an important question has been missing from the discussion: How much social media engagement of German-speaking political science researchers is out there?

Taking stock of German-speaking political science’s social media activity

Systematically taking stock of the social media activities should have been one crucial step in the analysis, if not the building block for it. I know from various discussions with German-speaking bloggers that we tend to assess the German-speaking blogosphere as rudimentary at best – if not non-existent. Examples of stand-out German blogs are hard to come up with. German-speaking PoliSci and IR blogs do not collaborate with prominent media outlets. Power tweeters are rare. These point are all very well taken.

Yet, this does not mean that there is no activity whatsoever. Although the number of political science blogs is not exactly mushrooming, it has been consistently increasing over the last couple of years and the level of activity is considerable. There are various examples of German-speaking scholars that blog about issues as diverse as security, migration, envirionmental policies, or the EU (although they may not blog in German). But I admit – I don’t have the numbers either.

What we know much less about is the consumption of these blogs. What exactly are the number of unique visitors per blog / per entry? How do these blogs feed back into the public discussion? There may much to be gained from this ‘long tail’ of less prominent blogs. As my friend Mathis put it: Even if smaller blogs only attract a portion of the attention of other blogs, this isn’t necessarily a problem as long as these niches are interesting and thought-provoking on their own.

Turning to Twitter, the number of German-speaking political scientists or political scientists at German-speaking institutions isn’t clear either. Twitter does not provide information on the status of ‘researcher’, and subscribers do not necessarily flag  their profession and/or institutional affiliation. In preparation of this blog post two months ago, and ever since, I have compiled a list of German-speaking political science tweeters. Basically, I’ve dug my way through numerous following/follower lists of people I know, the people they know, and so on. Although this does not deliver an exact account on the poli sci use of twitter, this list encompasses about 250 political scientists who either speak German or are affiliated with German-speaking institutions. I’m also fairly sure that I have missed out on many more. This leaves out the even higher number of trained political scientists who left academia. (And feel free to let me know whom I should add).

Political Scientist’s social media activity in the wider societal context

The number is much higher than I initially expected. After all, I only follow a portion of them, mostly from my sub-field. Yet, this number only tells us so much against a backdrop. Comparing the German-speaking blogosphere to transatlantic counterparts isn’t helpful.

A much more fruitful avenue for comparison and reflection seems the broader societal and social settings in which blogs and other social media activities are located. German-speaking people are rather oblivious to social media. 60 % do not use Facebook, almost 90 % don’t use Twitter. In a study from February 2014, Twitter had about 9 million subscribers from German-speaking countries – but only 1.4 million actively used this venue and only 0.3 million used it on a daily basis. After all, it’s still Neuland. If one assesses the social media activity of professional political scientist to be limited, this only tells us again that social sciences mirror and serve the domestic contexts they’re rooted in.

This doesn’t mean that there’s any room for improvement. We would all be happy if more political science researchers would blog or tweet, across all levels, from PhD candidates and junior faculty to the more senior folks. As the blog carnival nicely showed much can be gained from the active use of social media. New networks may unfold while old communities and networks are sustained. There’s enough room for more engagement and new areas of cooperation. Let’s just not expect too much.

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