The sound of politics

Citizen Confidence
Critiques and Contestation
Streetlevel Protests

Agné, Hans, Sommerer, Thomas & Angeler, David G. (2020). Introducing the Sounds of Data to the Study of Politics: A Choir of Global Legitimacy Crises. New Political Science, 42:3. S.272-288.

To illustrate more concretely the potentials of sonification in political science, we develop the method to create a musical representation of how legitimacy has developed in global governance over twenty years. Because both music and time series have duration and sequences, sonification is particularly worthwhile to represent time-series data. We represent trends of legitimacy in global and regional international organizations, for example, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union (EU), in the last decades. The composition is based on observations of three variables in a new dataset:
— survey data on citizen confidence in selected international organizations,
— critiques and contestation in global mass-media against these organizations, and
— streetlevel protests directed against them, also as reported in global mass-media.
As one can see and hear, representing observations of these variables through music allows for a novel and alternative way of describing how global legitimacy has developed in recent decades. This method may inspire new ways to overcome the divide between measuring legitimacy by observing either citizen trust or public discontent, respectively. It also highlights traits and meanings in quantitative data that easily go unnoticed in verbal, numerical, and visual representations. Finally, the composing of music for the purpose of addressing methodological problems is a worthwhile project regardless of the precise meaning that is communicated in the music. We might not at this early stage in research have a sufficiently developed understanding of what a musical expression means in terms of empirically observable political developments. But even puzzlement and provocation can be useful to exploit new opportunities to observe and understand the political world through “big data,” for instance. With this article we provide a sufficiently strong case for sonification in political science for others to take it seriously and identify ways in which our approach can be developed or need revision.