Visiting Speaker
Timothy R. Tangherlini
Professor, UCLA
Witches, Vaccines, Pizzas, and the Politics of Storytelling: Toward a Generative Model of Social Stories
Apr 4, 2018
Download TALK slides
1:30 pm
177 Huntington Ave
11th floor
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In the run up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, two scandals were front and center in the American news, social media, and across the internet. “Bridgegate” was based on verifiable events related to the closure of several lanes leading to the George Washington bridge in Ft. Lee, New Jersey. “Pizzagate” was based entirely on an ideologically-driven fiction that was presented through a series of stories told as true, in which high ranking members of the Democratic establishment were alleged to be involved in a child-traficking ring operating out of the basement of a Washington DC pizza parlor. This type of informal, yet ideological, storytelling constitutes a large part of everyday interaction, both in the online and offline worlds. In this work, we propose a three-level generative model of everyday storytelling. This model makes use of the “deep structure” models of earlier studies, yet accommodates the incomplete and noisy storytelling that characterizes most online and face-to-face interactions, by inserting an intermediary meso-level. This intermediary level allows us to uncover the emergence of stable narrative frameworks that reveal the dynamic relationships between actants, and trace the shifts in that framework caused by the observable aspects of storytelling. Using relatively straightforward computational methods, we are able to derive for any domain the narrative framework and match observed stories to that framework. We base this work on three main case studies: legends of witchcraft from 19th century Denmark, stories of vaccine hesitancy among American parents over the past decade, and the Pizzagate conspiracy.

about the speaker
Timothy R. Tangherlini is a Professor at UCLA. He holds a joint appointment in the Dept. of Asian Languages and Cultures and the Scandinavian Section. A folklorist by training, he is the author of Danish Folktales, Legends and Other Stories, and has also published widely in academic journals, including The Journal of American Folklore, Western Folklore, Journal of Folklore Research, Folklore, Scandinavian Studies, Danske Studier, PlosOne, Computer and Communications of the Association for Computing Machines. He has produced three documentary films and acted as consultant on documentaries and films for Disney Animation, National Geographic Television, National Geographic Specials and PBS. He recently co-directed a semester long program on Culture Analytics at NSF’s Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics. His current work focuses on computational approaches to problems in the study of literature and culture. He is the president of the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study, and a Fellow of the American Folklore Society. His research has been funded by the NEH, the NSF, the NIH, the Mellon Foundation, the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Korea Foundation, the American Scandinavian Foundation, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and Google.

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