The analysis showed tens of thousands of voices identifying with Semenya – through race, gender, culture and ethnicity. The dominant theme was national identity: South Africans coming together in defence and support of “our Mokgadi”.
South Africa – Showing how much South Africans care about Caster Mokgadi Semenya wasn’t the initial objective that data and language analysts Amy Carmichael and Leigh Crymble had when they started their research. But more than 40 000 tweets later, that was the dominant narrative that emerged on Twitter over the time frame of their analysis.
“Caster Semenya, First of Her Name, Queen of Limpopo, Master of 800m, Lover of Pap, and the Slayer of running.”
Arguments for and against Caster Semenya’s right to participate in international athletics have been at a controversial epicentre of sports news and online discussion over the past several months. A large portion of this conversation has happened online using the social media platform of Twitter.
“We noticed the hashtag #CasterSemenya trending on Twitter at the start of her legal battles against the IAAF and found it more and more interesting,” says Amy Carmichael, co-author of the report with an academic background in biotechnology and human genetics.
“We wanted to look into what was being said online, and by whom, and so we started this passion project.”
“Our aim initially,” adds Leigh Crymble, a doctoral student at the Wits Business School, “was to look at one snapshot in time – at the beginning of May – when the Court of Arbitration decided to uphold the IAAF’s ruling on female testosterone levels.”
Just two days later though, #CasterSemenya trended again, this time for her winning performance in the 800m discipline in Doha.
“We realised our analysis needed to include both tribulation and triumph, and our research soon extended to tweets during the decision reversal a month later by the Swiss Federal Tribunal”.
Using the #CasterSemenya hashtag, Carmichael and Crymble conducted a sociolinguistic study using Text Mining, Corpus Linguistics and Critical Discourse Analysis to investigate how Semenya was represented online. Rooted in critical linguistic theory, the research focuses on the study of language in relation to broader social, political and economic structures of society.
“As language users, we have a choice in how we interact linguistically to represent and construct dialogue,” says Crymble.
“And knowing that language, power and identity are so interconnected; we wanted to see how this played out in the language used about Semenya.”
“We’re especially passionate about the timing of publishing our work,” adds Carmichael. “August marks Women’s Month, and we want to showcase what this month should really be about – highlighting gender equality and de-bunking stereotypes of what it means to be a woman.”
In many ways, the research and subsequent analysis became South Africa’s love letter to Caster Semenya; someone portrayed as a national hero and “queen” of the nation.
“This month, we want to celebrate Caster”, concludes Crymble. “And we hope that you’ll join us.”
To access the full report, visit bit.ly/Mokgadi or @BreadCrumbsZA on Twitter. Contact the authors via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.