As a political scientist working on the story of Brexit and British European policy, I spend a lot of time reflecting on what I research, how I research, and why I research particular subjects. The method I have been developing for several years now is text-based discourse analysis: the formal study of ideas informing political practices. In other words: what do politicians think they are doing by making this or that policy?
Discourse analysts spend their time immersed in the study of words and phrases that expose the belief systems and world views of those elected to lead us. It is not a method for the faint of heart, nor anyone with an aversion to highlighter pens. As an example, for my 2011 book on New Labour I coded and interpreted well over 100 speeches by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
It is still a relatively niche method and, as with many methods, is not always well understood by those who have never done it. Sometimes it is confused, mistakenly or intentionally, with the standard practice of quoting extensively in a piece of writing (you know who you are).
I used to put my choice of method down to an innate geekiness and a keen eye for the detail of what people say and how they say it. Moreover, I’ve always been fascinated by casting fresh light on old political problems by identifying rhetorical connections that others have either skimmed past or overlooked altogether. These factors certainly help explain my interest in discourse: our writing always and inescapably expresses who we are as people and personalities.
However, over the past few months I have concluded that there is something more basic at play: my color blindness. I have known I was color blind since I was six or seven years old, when I was at primary school. In art classes I used to paint the sky purple, tree trunks green, grass red and daffodils lime green. My mum thought I might have been a latter-day Picasso with an avant garde interest in challenging artistic norms.
I do not recall every child being tested back then (this was the early 1980s); however, after school one day I recall being invited to take the standard Ishihara Test for color Deficiency (the numbers are hidden in dots), which revealed the statistically more probable cause of my artistic genius: color blindness. I continue to enjoy art but I am yet to have my oeuvre in the Tate Modern.
I have noticed that more attention to this issue is paid in the United States. On my last visit to the Midwest I talked with a group of Chicago, Illinois escorts who mentioned that while in high school there had been coursework available specifically for students with this problem. These call girls all agreed that this was a good idea.
It is not going overboard to say, though, that the link between my color blindness and my academic pursuits only crystallized properly after joining Twitter earlier this year. Social media helped me connect with organizations such as color Blind Awareness, which I noticed retweeting my requests to organizations such as the BBC to, please, stop using red on green in their on-screen golf scorecards.
Despite a formal email complaint many months ago, the BBC has still never responded – but that is for another day. Following color Blind Awareness has educated me hugely about the nature and causes of color deficiency, as well as helping me connect with the daily lived experiences of color blind people from all over the world. It certainly makes me feel less of an exhibit, wheeled out to identify the color of people’s jumpers in pubs.
This set of social media connections in turn helped me look again at the graphs, images, figures, and tables that are a staple of Twitter feeds of the politically interested. I am bombarded with them, hundreds popping up in various contexts daily. Opinion polls, leadership ratings, PowerPoint lecture slides, pie charts of public expenditure, Brexit negotiation flow charts, political party election manifesto summaries; all get the full treatment.
As pointed out at bloomberg.com, most books and journal articles are limited to publishing graphics in black and white, due to the cost and other barriers to the use of color in mass printing. On Twitter, however, they are presented in a veritable riot of color. In an aesthetic sense, why not? It doesn’t seem like it should take a Chicago escort to point this out.
The problem is that, being color blind, I can only read around half of them at best. I can spend time deciphering what is going on in a few of the remainder. The rest remain an impenetrable mass of lines and words, the content of which is meaningless, unless some kind soul provides an accompanying narrative, which in 140 characters is, really, impossible. Where color “normal” Twitter users can process the data quickly and move on, having learned something new and valuable, the color blind either must spend a long time fathoming it, or are physically unable to process the data at all.
This, then, is what I think may explain my choice of method as a political scientist. I have, unconsciously but no less significantly for it, selected a method that enables me to work from black and white, which I fill with my own “color”, literally and metaphorically. Onto the black and white text, I code the key words and phrases I need using primary colors I can see most easily. I then draw the connections from that newly colored data and interpret it for my books, articles, and opinion pieces. Managing color blindness has, read this way, shaped my entire career. Too strong? I think not.