Tour de CLARIN: Interview with Agnieszka Hess


Please describe your academic background and current position.

I studied political science at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, obtained my PhD degree in political science at the University of Vienna, and then returned to my home university, where I have been working for more than 25 years. I am Professor of Social Communication and Media Science at Jagiellonian University, chair of the Discipline Council for Social Communication and Media Sciences, and Director of the Institute for Journalism, Media and Social Communication at the same university.

My research interests include political communication, mediatization of social reality, civil dialogue and populism. My focus is on the analysis of the relations between institutions functioning within a country’s democratic system. I am particularly interested in the communicative aspect of these relations and the role that the media play. I am the author of more than 100 scientific publications in social communication and media sciences. I am also an expert, executor and advisor in international and national research projects.


What are you currently working on? And how does your research benefit from the CLARIN infrastructure?

I have been analysing the functioning and the role of non-governmental organisations in my country in the context of the democratisation process since around 2004, when Poland joined the structures of the European Union. I am interested in political, social and media conditions for the development of the third sector and inter-sectoral cooperation in Poland. This is the most important research that I am carrying out using various - quantitative and qualitative - research methods. As part of the project, I conducted a multi-faceted study on non-governmental organisations as participants in political discourse. I analysed their social representations, the way they are portrayed in the media, and their communication strategies. I also studied the relationship (including communication) between the NGO sector and public administration, as well as between representatives of NGOs and journalists. The results of this study are presented in my monograph Social Media Participants of Political Discourse in Poland: The Publicity and Communication Strategies of Non-Governmental Organizations (link here (in Polish)).

I am currently conducting research on parliamentary discourse, which is a continuation of the aforementioned project. I am interested in the institutionalisation of the functioning of NGOs and civil dialogue in Poland after 1989. These are long-term studies, covering a period of more than 30 years, that require working with large text resources – including the corpus of parliamentary discourse that consists of transcripts from the work of the Sejm and the Senate (plenary sessions and committee meetings of both chambers of the Polish parliament). 

This study would not be possible without the cooperation of the CLARIN-PL team and the possibility of using the computational linguistics tools provided by this consortium. The selected tools have been adapted to the needs of my research. Based on the analyses carried out with the help of these tools, I was able to characterise the political conditions for the development of NGOs and the features of the discourse of political decision-makers - concerning NGOs and cross-sectoral cooperation - in particular terms of office of the Polish parliament.

I also collaborated with the CLARIN-PL team as part of the Civil Dialogue Observatory (ODO), which I run. It is a scientific and didactic project implemented in 2015 by Jagiellonian University in consultation with the municipality of Krakow. In 2021, the subject of research of the ODO team was multiculturalism - the changing structure of the inhabitants of Krakow towards a multicultural community. This is a topic that has become extremely important in the face of the war in Ukraine. Krakow became a place where thousands of people fleeing from the war sought shelter.

As part of the ODO project, we conducted an analysis of both the Krakow City Council discourse during the period when city authorities introduced a programme for intercultural integration, as well as the media discourse at the time. The ability to use the infrastructure provided by the CLARIN consortium and their technical support allowed us to study entire corpora, including texts documenting the work of the Krakow City Council and media materials from that period. In December 2022, a publication (in Polish) documenting the results of these analyses, including recommendations for city authorities regarding the examined issues, was published. The monograph also contains a detailed description of the research methodology, the tools used, and the cooperation process with the CLARIN-PL team.


How did you hear about CLARIN and how did you get involved?

I participated in some CLARIN-PL workshops at my home institute in 2018. It was an initiative of a friend who had already worked with this team. During the workshops, various research tools that are available as part of the CLARIN-PL infrastructure were presented. A few of them caught my special attention. I started to think about the possibility of using computational linguistics tools in my research, which enables working with large text resources. After the workshop, I contacted the people responsible for cooperation with users. After sending the initial research concept, I first received the information I needed, and then help, for instance about the choice of tools, and how to adapt them to the needs of my project. This is how my scientific adventure with corpus research began.


Which CLARIN tools and resources have you used and how did you integrate them into your research?

My cooperation with CLARIN began with research on parliamentary discourse. With the support of the CLARIN team, I used the TOPIC tool for topic modeling, thanks to which it was possible to define and illustrate the structure of topics related to the issues of the analysed corpus. The TermoPL tool, which was used to analyse the language of politicians - for instance, topics, contexts, terminology and vocabulary - also turned out to be very useful. In this study, I also tried to use sentiment analysis tools (SENTEMO, MULTIEMO and WYDŹWIĘK), to determine the emotional overtones of a given statement. It did not work for this study, due to the specific nature of formalised parliamentary discourse. However, these tools worked well in the initial analysis of the media discourse, which was one part of the research on multiculturalism carried out by the Civil Dialogue Observatory.


What are the methodological and technical challenges that you face in your particular field?

The analysis of media discourses often requires working with vast resources of various types of text and other forms of communication, e.g. visual. Significant technical problems involve the collection, accumulation and storage of research material. Deciding on the criteria for selecting the sample in a situation where it is impossible to cover the entire research material is often a methodological challenge. In addition, media experts have to face the specific character of their research subject. On the one hand, an analysis of the media and changes occurring in the media and under the influence of the media, requires the use and combination of various research methods, which extends the research process. On the other hand, in order to capture the dynamics of these changes, short-term, fragmentary research must be designed, which cannot cover the complexity of the analysed problem.


What do you think needs to be developed to enrich CLARIN and make it better known within your research community?

I have been watching the growing popularity of the tools available as part of the CLARIN infrastructure among media and communication scholars in Poland. Researchers who are using the infrastructure and collaborating with the consortium, and who present their research results in presentations and publications, are important ambassadors for CLARIN in the scientific community. I think that an even greater participation of representatives of the consortium in scientific events would help to boost CLARIN’s recognition among social science scholars. Conference programmes often lack practical presentations of research tools that are used in projects in the field of social sciences.


What is in store for your future collaboration with the CLARIN?

I hope to continue corpus research in cooperation with CLARIN-PL. I plan to use the tools I have tested - above all TOPIC and TERMO PL - in research on media discourse on a broader scale than before.