Viktoria Spaiser

  • University Academic Fellow in Political Science Informatics - University of Leeds

Research interests

I am interested in understanding social change, and how it can be accelerated in response to the climate emergency. Such an understanding is crucial for societies committed to meet the Paris Climate Agreement goals.

To achieve these goals unprecedented measures will have to be taken that would transform how we live, organise and think. Such a radical change can only be successfully implemented with broad popular support and participation. 

Research has shown that normative change (i.e. the change in social acceptability of behaviours, opinions, institutional processes etc.) is crucial for enabling large-scale social change; normative change creates a citizenry that demands and actively supports necessary political decisions. For that reason, I am interested in studying the process of normative change promoted by civil society actors such as Fridays For Future and Extinction Rebellion as the driver for social change.

Specifically I want to:

Understand unfolding normative change

I study civil society actors as norm entrepreneurs and assess to what extent the new norms are taking root within wider society and political institutions, in contest with existing norms that are regarded as inadequate in response to climate emergency.

Identify what is blocking normative and social change

I am interesed in the counter reactions to the normative change from, for example, populist politicians and opinion leaders, and assess the potential consequences of these counter reactions (e.g. disinformation or defamation) in terms of normative change adaptation within the wider society.

Determine how normative and social change can be strengthened, amplified and accelerated through various interventions.

I am interested in examining:

  • to what extent normative change can drive behavioural change and how it interacts with other factors that facilitate or prohibit behavioural change
  • the role of local communities in normative and social change
  • how to circumvent dysfunctional social and psychological defence mechanisms in response to climate change threat that lead to increasing support of populist groups opposing climate change policies
  • how normative and social change can be accelerated, bringing all results together and translating the insights into policy making recommendations.

My research is interdisciplinary, bringing together mixed methods such as natural language processing, machine learning and social network analysis of large volume social media data, statistical analysis of secondary data, qualitative interviews with policy makers, smartphone-based field experiment on individual and community level, survey experiment and agent-based modelling. Furthermore, my research integrates insights from disciplines such as sociology, social psychology, political science and computational social science.

I am also studying the Sustainable Development Goals and the conflicting interactions between the various goals, in particular between ecological goals and socio-economic goals and how these conflicts can be overcome using mathematical modelling and data analysis.