Developmental Idealism in Internet Search Data

Publication Abstract

Dorius, Shawn F., and Jeffrey Swindle. 2019. "Developmental Idealism in Internet Search Data." Sociology of Development, 5(3): 286.

Scholarship on developmental idealism demonstrates that ordinary people around the world tend to perceive the level of development and the specific characteristics of different countries similarly. We build on this literature by examining public perceptions of nations and development in internet search data, which we argue offers insights into public perceptions that survey data do not address. Our analysis finds that developmental idealism is prevalent in international internet search queries about countries. A consistent mental image of national development emerges from the traits publics ascribe to countries in their queries. We find a positive relationship between the sentiment expressed in autocomplete Google search queries about a given country and its position in the global developmental hierarchy. People in diverse places consistently associate positive attributes with countries ranked high on global development indices and negative characteristics with countries ranked low. We also find a positive correlation between the number of search queries about a country and the country's position in indices of global development. These findings illustrate that ordinary people have deeply internalized developmental idealism and that this informs their views about countries worldwide.

10.1525/sod.2019.5.3.286

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