Why Map Issues? On Controversy Analysis as a Digital Method

Marres, Noortje. 2015. Why Map Issues? On Controversy Analysis as a Digital Method. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 40(5), pp. 655-686. ISSN 0162-2439 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This paper takes stock of recent efforts to implement controversy analysis as a digital method, in the study of science, technology and society (STS) and beyond, and outlines a distinctive approach to addressing a key challenge: the problem of digital bias. Digital media technologies exert significant influence on the enactment of controversy in online settings, and this risks to undermine the substantive focus of controversy analysis conducted by digital means. To address this problem, I propose a shift in thematic focus from controversy analysis to issue mapping. The paper begins by distinguishing between three broad frameworks that currently guide the development of controversy analysis as a digital method: demarcationist, discursive and empiricist. While each of these frameworks has been adopted in STS, I argue that the last one offers the best opportunities to further develop its distinctive approach to controversy analysis and address the problem of digital bias: this last framework allows us to digitally implement the “move beyond impartiality” in the study of knowledge, technology and society. To clarify how, I distinguish between two opposing solutions to the problem of digital bias in controversy analysis: a precautionary approach that seeks to render controversy independent from digital platforms, and an affirmative approach, which deploys specifically digital formats such as hyperlinks and hashtags to map controversies. Endorsing the latter approach, I argue that it needs to be developed further in order to secure the substantive focus of digital controversy analysis. We must broaden the scope of digital controversy analysis and examine not just controversies, but a broader range of issue formations, including public relations campaigns and activist mobilizations. I explore the practical implementation of this approach by discussing a pilot study in which we analyzed issues of Internet governance with the social media platform Twitter.

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The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship and/or publication of this article: The author gratefully acknowledges ESRC grant ES/J010103/1 Platforms for Issue Mapping: Demonstrating the Relevance for Participatory Social Research.


controversy analysis, media technologies, digital methods, methodology, media bias, politics of knowledge, politics of technology, Twitter, Internet governance

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Sociology > Centre for Study of Invention and Social Process (CSISP) [2003-2015]


26 March 2015Published Online
September 2015Published

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Date Deposited:

25 Feb 2015 09:53

Last Modified:

28 Feb 2022 14:42

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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