How big data redefines global culture / University of Tyumen / Cultural studies

If you place all 6 mln cultural events that had been published in the last 10 years on global platforms like Meetup, Behance and TED you’ll see THIS. At first glance, it looks as if all global cultural events are still concentrated in larger cities like New York, London, Paris or Moscow. This was true before, but the last decade showed some surprising trends… that went unnoticed. Not only are there more smaller cities visible on the global cultural map than ever before, but we see more and more cultural events happening outside of the traditional World cultural centers. What else can we learn about contemporary global culture with help of big data? I am Lev Manovich. I am directing big data project called Elsewhere for University of Tyumen. Lev Manovich is a pioneer in using computational methods to study contemporary culture. He has been developing tools to analyse and visualise massive cultural datasets in humanities since the 2000s I think originally the idea came to me in 2005. So it took about almost 15 years to get ready to do this. ‘Elsewhere’ is the first project of the Cultural Trends Lab that was opened in University of Tyumen in 2018 to tackle something nobody has done before. The idea of the project is to collect various public data, to put it together and to use techniques for AI and data science to make the first maps and also to see how contemporary culture grew up since the end of the Cold War in the past 30 years. The core idea of the Elsewhere project is based on the fact that people’s understanding of how contemporary culture is spreading across the world is distorted. We simply don’t know the real picture. How many creative clusters, theatres, exhibitions, designers – nobody knows. One of the reasons why our understanding of global culture is limited is that a small number of world capitals were always getting disproportional amount of attention. It’s all about Moscow, Missouri, New York and Beijing, so what about Ufa, Tyumen? What about hundreds of thousands of cities, which have between 250k and 1m people? In the mid 2000s, the rise of global platforms for organising cultural events such as Behance, Meetup, Ted and others, made smaller cities visible globally for the first time in their history. I am Ruslan Dohov, I do spatio-temporal analysis of global cultural events and their evolution on the world map. Platforms led to the beginning of cultural globalization developping not in isolation, but globally, up front. By the end of the 2010s such platforms spread across the planet and the numbers of events announced on them became big enough to be analyzed. In this project we collected, we extracted all the names, all the cities from a dataset, which has 6 mln events, starting around 2007. And when we did analysis, we found that there are names of 47k cities of different size being mentioned. And it’s 144 countries. How does one analyse 6 million events appearing on platforms that are different in size, structure, language and geography? How can one unify this data? Questions like these are the exact reason why before ‘Elsewhere’ nobody even tried to analyse the global culture as a whole. As a rule, cultural analytics focuses on one single source. For example, it can be Instagram, it can be an event site or some particular type of event. For example, people analyze all theatrical performances. Or all biennales. But even this narrow segment poses huge difficulties in terms of collecting data and transforming it into some comprehensible form. Elsewhere’s team came up with a solution to analyse dissimilar data. They analyze both data structured by platforms and the unstructured description texts. Data, which is cultural institutions, museums, galleries, theatres is online and is structured. You have dates, locations. But we also have texts Every theatre play is described. A few paragraphs – every exhibition, so we can use text analytics to analyse these texts, For example to figure out the 100 words that describe contemporary culture are different from 5 years ago. Despite the fact that ‘Elsewhere’ has just begun analysing data, the early analysis has already given some interesting results. First, there are good reasons to rethink the global role of cultural biennales. The Biennale is a great example of an event that becomes trendsetting. The first international art biennale took place in Venice in 1895. By the year 1990, there have been just 37 international biennales in various countries; 74 by the year 2000, 127 by 2010, and 200 by 2018. The Biennale geography spread dramatically outpacing the rise of global platforms, which means that these are the events that more than others push global culture forward. Second, the team has uncovered some countries that are more culturally globalised than their neighbours. It turns out that some countries are outsiders. They are different from neighbouring countries and rise above them. Like South Africa and Kenya. Take Kazakhstan, which is growing very fast. The number of events there is growing at an incredible pace and it radically stands ot in the entire region. The third interesting discovery is that since 2012-2013, there has been a dramatic rise of cities with a population of less than 1 mln people popping up on the Culture Map. The share of these small towns has increased multiple times. It has grown from 10% to 30% and more. Not only are there more events, some cities, regions and even countries can be seen specialising in certain types of events. Thus big data helps uncover trends that cannot be seen otherwise. It can be likened to drawing the first geographic maps of the World. When we place all these events on a map, when we place certain types of events on a map, stating the exact year, creating a dynamic map, we basically see a picture that no one has ever seen before. The tools and technology of analysis used by ‘Elsewhere’ can afterwards be applied to other languages and platforms. One of the many practical sides of using data is to create tools that could help local cultural projects, groups, creators and areas to improve their global visibility. And in doing so, to provide them with the tools that they can use to compare themselves with their counterparts in other countries without risking repetition.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *