July 17, 2016

Cultural Analytics

This project is designed to help the U.S. Army better understand the cultural environments in which they operate. Every mission from hostage rescue to supporting the retaking of towns controlled by hostile forces involves interacting with local populations. A better understanding of these populations is difficult given not only language differences but also cultural differences that infuse meaning into language.

Therefore, this work is an automation of Director Rivera’s research methodology–discursive practices analysis (DPA). DPA is a method developed by Dr. Rivera designed to explore an information space, identify common tropes, and then expand that understanding to themes, and then ultimately to cultural frames that give meaning to themes and tropes. This necessary recursive interpretative method is rooted in phenomenological hermeneutics, following the work of Heidegger and Gadamer. Dr. Rivera applied this hermeneutic approach in his study of Iran’s strategic policy regarding their nuclear portfolio (http://gradworks.umi.com/35/94/3594965.html). In that case, tropes, themes, and cultural frames shed light on how Iran’s political elite competed for power within Iran using honor as a discursive practice.

The current work, based on this method, will examine the Discursive Practices of relevant actors in Iraq and Syria involved in the taking of Fallujah and Manbij, to shed light on the cultural frames associated with the actors involved in the current efforts in Mosul and Raqqa. Through this work, we expect to be able to construct an accurate representation of the information environment to enable better understanding and communication. Laboratory Coordinator Max Erdemandi, developer Adia Coley, and LUCAS intern Haley Combrinck-Graham of UNC Chapel Hill’s Peace, War, and Defense curriculum, are leading this effort of information collection, cultural frame construction, and developing algorithms that will automate this process.

In order to further this understanding, we are expanding our Course of Action Simulator (CAS). CAS is a dyadic model that helps decision-makers, analysts, scholars, and students to vet strategies, conceptualized as the deployment of resources, against a competing set of strategies. In other words, two actors endowed with a set of resources, deploy those resources to achieve strategic ends. These resources include legitimacy and information, as such the CAS is well-suited to vet information strategies.  Current efforts led by Sarah Hendrix will move the design from CAS’ original coding in VBA to Python, provide a more attractive and useful end-user experience, and potentially make the model triadic-capable.

This work is done in a subcontractor capacity with industry partners in support of Army Research Office objectives.