Picturing the Arctic: digital imagery and the prospect of using search engines to collect data for interpretative political research
Aslak Veierud Busch (2023) Picturing the Arctic: digital imagery and the prospect of using search engines to collect data for interpretative political research, Political Research Exchange, 5:1, DOI: 10.1080/2474736X.2022.2153705
Imagery frames reality, and political actors tell stories using images. In an increasingly digital communication landscape, political actors tell visual stories directly on websites or social media channels. This online shift places digital imagery centrally in how we picture political issues, events, and places. Digital images are mobile, circulable and appropriable, which means images are not fused to their immediately surrounding text. Telling a story with digital imagery constitutes a contribution toward a wider digital visual discourse, enabled by circulation. Interpretivist research lacks tools to unpack this digital visual discourse. This article critically evaluates a technique to tap into digital visual discourse using semi-automated data collection utilising search engines. Such data collection tools can divorce imagery from its immediately surrounding text and create a corpus that allows us to identify a digital visual discourse around a given topic. I draw on an attempt at scraping search engines to this end, studying how actors portray the Arctic. The technique is presented transparently with a call to engage with the tool, to spur methodological debates and innovation. Search engine scraping can, in the right research design and if applied critically, illuminate new dimensions of discourse by prying apart written text and imagery.