The release of the GDELT dataset (Global Data on Events, Location, and Tone) has provided social movement researchers a powerful tool to study global social movements. Preliminary explorations of these data show its potential promise for analyzing major social movements, e.g. the uprising in Egypt, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, and Syria’s civil war. It’s updated every day (!), which is great for ongoing social movement research.
As with any data, one should take caution when using GDELT to make claims about the real world. John Beieler, a doctoral candidate at Penn State, used GDELT to create a visualization of every protest in the world since 1979. The visualization shows the number of events rapidly increasing in later years, which is probably due to more media coverage of events and the advent of the internet rather than an actual increase in events. As Beieler himself points out, journalistic bias is an issue with any data that relies on media sources. Nonetheless, GDELT is an amazing resource for social movement scholars…unless you study women.
I had planned to do my own exploration of these data through my favorite social movement category, women’s rights. After all, big-shot social movement scholars like Peter Evans (2005) and Manual Castells (2004) use transnational women’s movements, alongside labor movements and the environmental movement, as examples of durable and effective global movements. Just recently, there has been a number of internationally visible actions concerning women’s rights, such as the fight by women in Saudi Arabia to win the right to drive and massive public protests against rape in India (to cherry pick some examples). GDELT could potentially provide perspective on these global women’s rights events.
When I started to dig into the dataset, however, I found no field that would identify an event as involving women, women’s rights, or feminism.
GDELT records the raw CAMEO 3-digit actor codes and numeric event codes in separate fields. These fields include “Country Codes”, “Known Group Codes”, “Ethnic Codes”, “Religion Codes”, and “Type Codes”. Disappointingly, and as far as I can tell, the words “women”, “woman”, or “feminism” do not occur in any of these fields. The “Type Codes” include “Education”, “Environmental”, “Human Rights”, and “Labor”, but nothing on women’s rights or feminism. The “Known Group Codes” also do not include any women’s organizations.
Am I missing something or is this a major omission? Is there a way to leverage GDELT to study women’s rights activity? Why is such a large and expansive category within social movements missing from the largest dataset on global events? I did find one glimmer of hope: the Fall 2013 release promises to include “thematic” information, which includes “Emphasis on Women’s Rights”. This may be the ticket to using these data to examine global women’s rights activity.
Castells, Manuel. 2004. The Power of Identity. Second Edition. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
Evans, Peter. 2005. “Counterhegemonic Globalization: Transnational Social Movements in the Contemporary Global Political Economy.” Pp. 655-670 in The Handbook of Political Sociology: States, Civil Societies, and Globalization, edited by Thomas Janoski. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.