Mapping Human Values: Enhancing Social Marketing through Obituary Data-Mining

In Eda Gurel-Atay & Lynn Kahle (eds.), Social and Cultural Values in a Global and Digital Age. Routledge (forthcoming)
Mark Alfano
Delft University of Technology
Obituaries are an especially rich resource for identifying people’s values. Because obituaries are succinct and explicitly intended to summarize their subjects’ lives, they may be expected to include only the features that the author(s) find most salient, not only for themselves as relatives or friends of the deceased, but also to signal to others in the community the socially-recognized aspects of the deceased’s character. We report three approaches to the scientific study of virtue and value through obituaries. We begin by reviewing studies 1 and 2, in which obituaries were carefully read and labeled. We then report study 3, which further develops these results with a semi-automated, large-scale semantic analysis of several thousand obituaries. Finally, we present the results of study 4 in which individuals were asked to write prospective obituaries. Geography, gender, and elite status all turn out to influence the virtues and values associated with the deceased.
Keywords values  text-mining  digital humanities  obituaries
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