Research

I use a combination of qualitative methods, traditional quantitative methods, computational text analysis techniques, and network analysis to study culture, institutions, social movements, and gender. I seek to my make research open and reproducible, and encourage others in the social sciences and the humanities to do the same.

Here are a few of my ongoing projects:

Feminist Fields

In the past decade research on social movements and collective behavior has slowly been moving away from a resource mobilization and political process model, with its emphasis on identifying and measuring the combination of variables that lead to movement emergence and success, toward a multi-institutional approach. The multi-institutional approach acknowledges that oppression is distributed across multiple, often competing, institutions within society, each with their own logic. Thus, social movements have multiple targets, including social and cultural targets, and as such they will have multiple, sometimes competing goals and strategies. Acknowledging this complexity requires new methods in computational social science and the digital humanities. 

I employ this multi-institutional perspective to study the women's movement in the United States from 1848-1975 in two cities, New York City and Chicago, using new advances in network analysis and computational text analysis to identify structural and cultural diversity within. I do so through a dual approach: using network analysis to measure the structure of this movement and using computational text analysis to measure the underlying culture and ideas within the movement. I have completed the network analysis, including close to 100 women's movement organizations, and, using computational text analysis to analyze the writing of four core organizations within this movement, I have identified two competing and persistent political logics shaping the movement.  



Publications:

  • "Political Logics as Cultural Memory: Regional Differences and Between-Wave Continuities within the Women's Movement in Chicago and New York City."
    • Richard A. Peterson Prize for Best Student Paper, Sociology of Culture Section Graduate Student Paper Award, American Sociological Association, 2014 
    • Leo Lowenthall Memorial Prize, University of California, Berkeley, 2014
  • "'Feminism Means More Than a Changed World...It Means the Creation of a New Consciousness in Women': Feminism, Consciousness-Raising, and Continuity Between the Waves." Book chapter forthcoming in 100 Years of the Nineteenth Amendment: An Appraisal of Women's Political Activism, edited by Holly J. McCammon and Lee Ann Banasak.
  • Crossley, Alison Dahl and Laura K. Nelson.* Forthcoming. “Feminists Reshaping Gender.” Chapter in Springer Handbook of the Sociology of Gender, edited by Barbara Risman, Carissa Froyum, and William Scarborough. New York: Springer Press. 
        *Equal authorship.
  • I am currently in talks with a major university press to publish the full manuscript.

The Changing U.S. Environmental Movement (with Brayden King)


Some claim that the U.S. environmental movement is shifting away from a strategy focusing on state regulations and policy changes and shifting toward a strategy focusing on individual change and, in particular, partnerships with businesses. We aim to test whether this is happening, and if it is, we will address the implications of this shift. Using a series of automated text analysis techniques we extracted all of the topics addressed by the environmental movement, and the tactics used, from national and local newspaper data between 1990 and 2014. We are analyzing how attention to different topics has changed over time, what tactics make the news more often and how this is changing over time, and we are testing the correlation between topics and tactics.

Gender and the Language of Crowdfunding (with Andreea Gorbatai)


In this study, we set out to examine the role of language in the success of online fundraising. In particular, we evaluate the influence of linguistic content on fundraising outcomes, above and beyond type of product or service offered. Online fundraising settings pose an interesting empirical puzzle: women are systematically more successful than men, an outcome contrary to offline gender inequality. We propose that this outcome is partially explained by linguistic differences between men and women in terms of language they use, and we test this mechanism using data from the online crowdfunding platform Indiegogo. The results support our theory, suggesting that the institution of crowdfunding may reduce gender inequalities in the fundraising arena by benefiting the communication style of women.

Papers:

Gorbatai, Andreea and Laura K. Nelson. "Narrative Advantage: Why Women Succeed in Crowdfunding." Currently under review.

Developing Automated Text Analysis Methods for Sociology (single author and with Leslie McCall, Derek Burk, and Marcel Knudsen)


Computational linguistics and computer scientists are hard at work developing tools and techniques to automate text analysis. Content analysis has always been a major tool for sociologists, and these techniques have the potential to put sociology on the edge of a major upheaval in the way we do content analysis. Translating the complex algorithms used by computer scientists, and the statistical assumptions about language behind these algorithms, for use in sociology, however, requires careful methodological thought. I am working on a few projects to help sociologists apply automated text analysis techniques to sociological analysis in a methodologically rigorous fashion.


Papers:

Nelson, Laura K. Forthcoming, "Computational Grounded Theory: A Methodological Framework." Sociological Methods and Research.

Nelson, Laura, Derek Burk, Marcel Knudson, and Leslie McCall. "The Future of Coding: A Comprehensive Comparison of Hand-Coding and Computer-Assisted Text Analysis Methods." Conditionally accepted, Sociological Methods and Research.