Visit to and Presentation in Shanghai, China

Earlier this year I received an invitation to attend a symposium organized by the Friedrich Ebert Stifting in Shanghai and the Shanghai Administration Institute. To be honest, receiving many invitations and reading this email only superficially, I first thought it was spam email. Luckily I did not yet delete it and a few days later I reread the email and  determining was a very interesting symposium in a very interesting setting. So I decided to accept the invitation, organized the visa for China, I took the plane to Shanghai, spent a few days sensing the city’s spirit and doing some site seeing and enjoying the food and people. Then on Monday I met my fellow presenters from Europe for dinner. For a complete list of presenters in the symposium click here. We had a very nice dinner Chinese style. I must say that after having worked some time in South Korea, I really got hooked on Asian food, whether it’s Korean, Japanese, or Chinese or Thai, when prepared well, it’s all delicious, even though some of it is an acquired taste.

Then on Tuesday morning, after having taken the group photo, the symposium titled “Transforming societies – transforming political parties” started. The program was a mix of Western scholars as well as scholars from China talking about  online political communication, political science and politics. The entire program will be available shortly from the website of the Friedrich Ebert Stifting.

There was a mix of political communication presentations and political science presentations. Those on political communication were provided by Rachel Gibson from Machester University in the UK and myself. Rachel Gibson talked about her project at Manchester University, and was titled “Social and Technological Trends and their Effects on Parties in the Western World”. One of here main studies was published in the New Media and Society special issue on “The state of online campaigning in politics”, titled “Party organizational change and ICTs: The growth of a virtual grassroots?” . I was the second international speaker, talking about “New Media – New Engaging Politcs? Personalization and Mediatization in Politics” It was based on published and and onging research . First I talked about changing ways of conducting elections campaigns which is based on Norris’  and Gibson and Römmele’s work . I then presented some results of prior published on the personalization in European Parliaments Elections that took place in 2009 (Hermans & Vergeer, 2013). I finished my presentation with some preliminary findings of a comparison of Twitter political Twitter networks in five countries (Japan, South Korea, the Netherlands, the UK and Canada). I am not going to write about that too much right now, because – as said – this project is still in progress.

Having worked and stayed somewhat longer periods in Asia but never in China, I decided to book a couple of days extra. Staying at a hotel in the French Concession, it was very easy to walk the streets leading either to Nanjing Road West or to Huaihai Road. From there it’s easy to take the very efficient and cheap subway system to travel across this vast city. In part I behaved like a true tourist sightseeing the main attractions. However I also like the parks where regular people like to go. I particularly liked Lu Xun Park and the Duolun neighborhood where Chinese writers lived.
After acting the tourist and relaxing in the hotel room watching some TV I noticed that on Chinese TV, the audition programs are very popular: every evening there is a “Chinese Idol” broadcast or a “So You Think You Can Dance” program. These programs strictly follow the formats as imposed by the producers. They also have HBO Asia, at least in the hotel, which I didn’t know existed. There are of course also many Chinese movie channels with historical movies and martial arts. Of course these are the channels available at my hotel. The regular channel package for people is sure to differ from this.

Of course, another thing I noticed, although I was already aware of Google’s disputes with China’s government, is that Google services did not work in Shanghai. Gmail and Google Maps on my Android phone did not work out of the box. A small workaround, using a VPN, solved this issue. Interestingly, Google Maps information on restaurants and traffic information was up-to-date and realtime, suggesting that many more people use Google. Otherwise, Google information should be outdated quite quickly, particularly the information on traffic congestion.

On that topic, it’s a bit of a shame to find yourself in Shanghai and encounter similar TV programs, the same coffee shops (e.g. Starbucks) and the same clothing shops (e.g. H&M and UNIQLO). That’s not why I travel the world. I want to be surprised and learn and taste new things. At the same time anime, manga and cosplay are enjoying increased popularity in the west as well. Whether this will balance out, meaning that specific cultural elements wil remain is unclear.

It’s almost as if it’s not the governments anymore that run the countries, but it’s the multinational companies like Ikea, H&M, UNIQLO, Starbucks, McDonalds, Burger King etc. Besides their increasing economic power, it leads to an increasing homogenization of culture. It really takes away the fun of traveling, of being surprised by the culture and the local customs. Still, this mainly applies to the city centers of large cities. When you venture in to neighborhoods some five or more subway stations away from the tourist center, you’ll be surprised how little English they understand, and see that the chance of encountering a Starbucks rapidly decrease.

But let’s be clear, do not be bothered by this when considering going to Shanghai. Go, you´ll enjoy it. There’s enough new things to experience. The only thing is you have to put somewhat more effort into it. That’s easy enough if you’re willing to take a 11 hour flight from Europe to get there in the first place. For me it was definitely worthwhile. Then, on Saturday evening Shanghai time – after a hellish taxi ride due to a very sleepy taxi driver – I flew back to the Netherlands and arrived at my home doorstep at 7:30AM local time.

A great thank you goes to Catherina Schläger, Judith Christ, Florian Sladky and Yan Yu representing the Friedrich Ebert Stifting in Shanghai for organizing this symposium in collaboration with the Shanghai Administration Institute.

US presidential debates analyzed with VOSViewer

These last few weeks the US was treated with three presidential and one vice-presidential debates. These are the most watched and most tweeted about events of the year. Still, the year is not over yet. A way to get partial insight into the debates, the maps show words being used in the debate: the closer the words in the Euclidean space, the more often they are used in the same line. The software can be downloaded from this website The manual is short but contains relevant references on algoritms and how to use it. The transcripts were downloaded from Before importing the texts in VOSViewer, they were stripped from anchor elements such as who is speaking, whether there is applause or laughter or crosstalk.

Below are the maps showing the results for each of the debates. The first map representing the first presidential debate shows four clusters. The first cluster (green) indicates the debate focused on the tax system regarding the small business enterprises. Because “governor” is part of this cluster, it appears that Obama or the interviewer directly addressed Romney on these issues. The second cluster (purple) shows the debate also strongly focused on Obamacare, insurance and the elderly. The red cluster shows healthcare issues, education and the Dodd Frank reform. The fourth cluster (yellow) is difficult to interpret.

First debate on national politics

The map of the second presidential debate (the “townhall” format) shows that the first (green) cluster focuses on businesses, small deduction the economy and woman. the second one (red) focuses on the younger citizens of the US, judging from the words: school, kid, candy, college, chance. the third cluster (blue) is difficult to interpret from these words: day, time, question, lot, mr. president, governor. The fourth and final cluster (brownish) focuses on the US-China relation.

Debate on national issues. The “Townhall” meeting

The map of the third presidential debate shows that the debate is clustered around four topics. The first cluster revolves around the relation between the government and American businesses (red). The second cluster is about the Middle East and the resent unrests (Syria and Libya) (green). The third clusteris about the Amnerican economy and the role of China as the culprit taking away American jobs (blue). The final cluser (yellow) deals with another part of Asia: Iraq, Pakistan and Afgahanistan and the American troops that stay over there to prevent war.

Third debate on foreign politics

New publication on television viewing from a longitudinal perspective

This new manuscript by Maurice Vergeer (RU), Rob Eisinga (RU) and Philip Hans Franses (EUR) was just published online in Communications – The European Journal of Communication Research.
Below is the complete reference and the abstract. Click on the title and you’ll be directed to the journal’s page.

Vergeer, M., Eisinga, R. & Franses, Ph.H. (2012). Supply and demand effects in television viewing. A time series analysis. Communications – The European Journal of Communication Research, 37, 79-98.


In this study we analyze daily data on television viewing in the Netherlands. We postulate hypotheses on supply and demand factors that could impact the amount of daily viewing time. Although the general assumption is that supply and demand often correlate, we see that for television this is only marginally the case. Especially diversity of program supply, often deemed very important in media markets, does not affect (positively or negatively) television viewing behavior. Most variation in television viewing can be attributed to habit and to regular events (e. g. weekends, Christmas) and to unexpected events (e. g. the 9/11 WTC attack). We also find that weather conditions interact with program types, so that, for example, in winter times people favor entertainment programs even more, suggesting that people use television for mood management.