Release | Big data insights into social macro trends (1800-2000): A replication study

Roth S., Schwede P., Valentinov V., Zazar K., and Kaivo-oja J. (2019), Big data insights into social macro trends (1800-2000): A replication study, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 149, 119759 [SSCI 3.815, Scopus, CNRS***, CABS***, VHB***].


  • Dominant theories of society are grounded on strong assumptions about the capitalist nature of the modern society
  • Results from this advanced replication of Roth et al. (2017) confirm doubts that society has been capitalist
  • Popular conceptions ought to undergo regular routine checks
  • Social theories which are no longer by default geared primarily to political and economic issues are required in the future

The article is freely available on the journal website until 20. December 2019 (or for download here thereafter).

Combined occurrence frequencies of all the “function system”-specific keywords as found in the English language Google Books corpus (1800-2000).

Abstract: Seeking to advance a big data approach to social theory, Roth et al. (2017) applied the Google Ngram Viewer to explore the way the evolution of the function systems of the modern society is reflected in the Google Books corpus. The authors produced a highly counterintuitive finding that the modern Western societies cannot be adequately described as capitalist. In order to respond to the controversies raised by this finding, the present research note replicates Roth et al.’s (2017) study while using a superior plotting software that allows to control the risk that keyword strength can be biased due to the neglect of keyword quantity. Covering the English-, French-, and German-language corpora, the present replication effort has confirmed the existence of distinct trends exhibited by the individual function systems, such as secularization, the persistent dominance of the political system, and the relatively lesser role of the economic system. These results are largely consistent with those of Roth et al. (2017) and thus lend credence to the authors’ sceptical assessment of the validity of the capitalist semantics. The research note concludes by pleading for the routinization of big data-driven checks of the modern social theories.

Keywords: Big data; social theory; social change; social macro trends; Google ngrams.

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