Academic Research

Title: Analysing Parliamentary Discourse on Regulation of MPs Expenses, 1964-2015 (2014-2015)
Funding Body: the Leverhulme Trust
Role: Consultant (LSE)

Houses of Parliament

Summary: How to prevent financial impropriety by MPs has been repeatedly debated since the 1960s, with the 2009 expenses scandal merely the latest instalment. Why does this problem recur despite several attempts to regulate it? This project investigates whether legislators’ discursive framing of personal (anti-)corruption shapes institutional response to scandals, both contemporaneously and subsequently through path dependency, and whether this framing is influenced by partisanship. To do so, it content analyses key parliamentary debates and select committee reports since 1964, drawing out their consequences for institutional practice and future deliberation.

Output: Judith Bara, Aude Bicquelet and Vasiliki Tsagkroni: Analysing Parliamentary Discourse on Regulation of MPs Expenses. Paper presented at the 2015 ALPSP Conference.
Abstract: Informed by recent developments in theory and improved techniques of analysis this paper is derived from a research project which was sparked by the 2009 ‘parliamentary expenses scandal’. It examines whether the nature of debate on financial impropriety has altered in the past thirty-five or so years by tracking the nature of parliamentary discourse in this area. By means of Computer Assisted Content Analysis (CATA), we analyse the content of arguments presented in parliamentary debates which relate to financial impropriety.

Title: ‘Communicating chronic pain: Interdisciplinary methods for non-textual data’ (2013-2014)
Funding Body: National Centre for Research Methods
Role: Co-Investigator (LSE)


Summary: This project uses interdisciplinary methods from the arts, humanities and social sciences to examine how chronic pain, as a non-verbal experience, can be communicated through non-textual data, and how these circulate socially. It will do this through a three stage process involving: (1) analysis of existing textual and non-textual pain expressions online and in social media such as YouTube; (2) a series of five workshops exploring non-textual expressions of pain by mapping physical and bodily, sound (aural), spatial, social and technological elements, and (3) an evaluation process.

Aude Bicquelet: Using Online Mining Techniques to inform Formative Evaluations: An Analysis of YouTube Video Comments about Chronic Pain.
Abstract: This paper looks at how exploratory data mining techniques such as descending hierarchical classifications, cluster and correspondence analysis can be usefully utilised to analyse health information posted on Social Media. To this end, the paper reports on the application of Text Mining techniques to analyse YouTube Video Comments on Chronic Pain. Both the advantages and the potential shortcomings associated with are these techniques are discussed. The paper concludes by making recommendations about the use of Online Mining techniques as either ‘stand-alone’ or as ‘mixed-methods’ in the design of formative evaluations.

Title: ‘Survey of Neuroenhancement Attitudes and Practices among British Youth’ (2012-2014)
Funding Body: Sticerd Foundation & Black Heart Foundation.
Role: Consultant (LSE)


Summary: This project assesses the practices and attitudes of British students towards cognitive-enhancing drugs. It responds to the lack of evidence about cognitive enhancement in the UK, despite ongoing reports of high prevalence and calls for dope testing before exams in the media. An in-depth on-line survey was developed and delivered, capturing about 850 university students from across the UK. Alongside the survey, a series of focus groups were held in London and in Plymouth, to qualitatively investigate cognitive enhancement activities, practices and beliefs among university students. Outputs of this research will inform (so far non-existent) policy-making and regulation of such drug use by students.

Output: Meghana Vagwala, Aude Bicquelet, Gabija Didziokaite and Ilina Singh: Towards a Moral Ecology of Pharmacological Cognitive Enhancement in British Universities.
Abstract: Few studies have examined the complex social patterns and values behind quantitative estimates of smart drug prevalence. We conducted a qualitative investigation of the ways in which social dynamics and moral attitudes shape smart drug practices among university students in the United Kingdom. Our focus group study identifies a moral ecology that operates within the social infrastructure of the university. The architecture of this moral ecology consists of collective values, social dynamics and individual factors. We find that in UK universities, smart drug risk and resilience are mediated by collective values around competition and prescription drug taking, and by soft peer pressure and social norms within friendship groups. We argue that moral ecological dynamics should be viewed as key mechanisms of smart drug risk and resilience in universities. Effective smart drug governance within universities should therefore attend to the moral ecology of smart drugs.

Title: ‘Computer-based textual analyses of French and English parliamentary debates on direct participation: Methodological issues and comparisons’ (2010).
Funding Body: Economic and Social Research Council (Project 026-27- 2431)
Role: Principal Investigator (LSE)


Summary: This project investigates how political representatives justify their positions either in favour of or against the use of the referendum device. It uses computer-based analysis to map the arguments of politicians in several successive parliamentary debates in France and Britain over the use of the referendum in the context of high-level politics: the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty (1992-1993), the European Constitution (2005) and the subsequent Lisbon Treaty (2008).

Aude Bicquelet and Helen Addison: How to refuse a vote on the EU? The case against the referendum in the House of Commons (1970-2010).
Abstract: Under what conditions do politicians oppose referendums especially to decide questions of European integration? Existing literature has identified reasons why governments and political parties pledge to hold non-mandatory referendums to ratify EU treaties or determine a country’s participation in the EU project, and some studies have analysed the effect of voter demand and attitudes towards EU referendums. This study examines the positions politicians themselves take towards popular participation in decision-making on the EU. The paper presents a summative content analysis of parliamentary debates in the United Kingdom between 1974 and 2010, tracing MPs’ arguments against using referendums to determine the UK’s participation in EU integration. Our results indicate that the range of claims made by MPs in the House of Commons against referendums on European matters has narrowed over time, although opposing arguments have continued to fall into the same set of four argumentative strategies. We find that institutional arguments, reflecting a Burkean understanding of representative democracy, consistently predominate over arguments that cite practical, political and manipulation concerns.

Aude Bicquelet and Helen Addison: Are Discretionary Referendums on EU Integration becoming ‘Politically Obligatory?’ The case of France and the United Kingdom.
Abstract: Recent studies have suggested that governments may call referendums on matters of EU integration because contextual circumstances make them ‘politically obligatory’ or because ruling politicians believe they are the ‘appropriate’ decision-making mechanism.  This study contests this claim based on the observation of two countries, France and the UK. The constitutions of both countries enshrine different, long-standing and legitimized interpretations of the concept of sovereignty. Legislators draw on these conflicting interpretations to argue for either direct participation or parliamentary procedures, and they deploy their arguments strategically to build a rhetorical case for the decision-making mechanism that suits their party’s interests. Contrary to the ‘politically obligatory’ or ‘appropriate’ referendum theses, politicians have greater freedom to choose whether and when to use referendums strategically to achieve their domestic political and European policy objectives.

Title: ‘Deliberative Democracy and Parliamentary Debate’ (2007).
Funding BodyNuffield Foundation (PI. Prof. Albert Weale)
Role: Research Officer (Essex)




Judith Bara, Albert Weale, Aude Bicquelet (2007) ‘Analysing Parliamentary Debates with Computer Assistance’ Swiss Political Science Review  13(4): 577-605.
Abstract: The analysis of parliamentary debates is at the confluence of a number of developments in political science. What light can automated and semi-automated techniques throw on such analysis? In this paper we compare two such approaches, one semi-automated (Hamlet) and the other fully automated (Alceste). We use both approaches to identify the prominent themes in debate and to assess how far speakers who favour different positions adopt a distinct pattern of discourse. We seek to assess how far the two approaches yield convergent or divergent analyses. Selecting a second reading debate from the UK House of Commons on a private member’s bill on abortion in July 1966, we are able to show similarities of analysis despite the detailed differences between the two approaches. In particular, the analysis in Hamlet allows identification of the extent to which individual speakers employ one type of vocabulary rather than another. Alceste is able to provide a statistical basis for the different classes of vocabulary that occur in the debate.

Albert Weale, Bicquelet Aude, Judith Bara (2012) Debating Abortion: Deliberative Reciprocity and Parliamentary Advocacy’ Political studies  60(3): 643-667.
Abstract: An influential model of deliberative democracy advances a principle of reciprocity as a norm of democratic debate on morally controversial issues. This norm is at odds with behaviour that has been observed in political campaigning and policy making where advocates of competing positions talk past one another. Does this inconsistency stem from a contrast between the normative and empirical or from not considering empirically plausible practices of democratic debate in which reciprocity might be respected? One such practice is free votes on conscience issues in the UK parliament. This article examines six second reading debates in the UK House of Commons on abortion legislation to assess whether, in favourable circumstances, political debate is consistent with reciprocity. Utilising computer-aided text analysis, via the Alceste program, it finds no gross departure from the norm of reciprocity, suitably operationalised, but neither does it find complete conformity to the norm of reciprocity. Because advocacy is an important component of political representation, deliberative norms are qualified in practice.