Moving the Mark: discourse mapping the Middle East through computer-assisted text analysis

Authors: Cayton Moore*, University of Oklahoma
Topics: Political Geography, Middle East, Regional Geography
Keywords: Political Geography, Critical Geopolitics, Middle East and North Africa, MENA, Text Analysis, Regional Geography
Session Type: Poster
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Lincoln 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The Middle East is a common part of the American geographic lexicon, especially as the term features heavily in news media. What the Middle East entails geographically, however, has not been so clear. The myriad meanings of the term are likely a result of the nature of the Middle East as an analytical unit used by outside institutions with vested interest in the region. I examine four of those institutions (The United States Department of Defense, The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, The United Nations, and The World Bank) and their published discourse on the Middle East. The inclusion and exclusion of states from the region hints at the geographic imagination underlying these regionalizations and how they are reproduced.
I performed discourse analysis using the Voyant Tools suite to explore a large corpus of publications, allowing for an exploratory approach to coding and discourse analysis. This combines close reading, integral to traditional discourse analysis with “distant reading”, which analyzes trends in a corpus much larger than would be efficient to code manually.
I found that the boundaries of the Middle East differ little between the corpora, but issues that define the region vary, creating different core and periphery arrangements based on the publishing institution. In particular, the United Nations frames the region around “The Middle East Question” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while military institutions emphasize conflict zones, similarly reducing Middle East to a unit of geographical analysis from without.

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