A Methodological Approach to a Discursive Analysis of Judicial Activism – Débora Cabral

For an enlarged version, click on the poster or download the file:



Feedback questions:

Regarding a Brazilian reference corpus, Sketch Engine has a 3.9 billion corpus of Portuguese, but its annotation has been criticised. Corpus Brasileiro, an ongoing project from the post-graduate program in Applied Linguistics at the PUCSP, a Brazilian university, currently has 1,249,100 words. I know it will be better annotated, but I am not sure it is large enough to be a reference corpus.
i) What do you think would be better: a large corpus with bad annotation or a small corpus with good annotation? Do you have any other suggestions?

ii) Any suggestions/ideas regarding my next steps are welcome too!  


  • David Griffin

    Hey Debbie! It’s cool to see how you’re approaching this. Did you ever talk to Xin Dai about her research? She finished her PhD recently and was also looking at judicial opinions, though I think hers were from the UK. Still, she might have some insight to share!

  • Kate Kavanagh

    Hi Debbie, thanks for the poster – I found it clear and easy to follow with useful definitions of the Brazilian legal context. I’ve never heard of ‘judicial activism’ before, so depending on your audience that might need a little clarification (although your method gives me some idea). I think the question about annotation depends on what elements of the corpus you want to compare and whether the criticised annotation is relevant to those elements, rather than something that can be determined by itself. Is the new PUCSP corpus being collected to be representative of all different types of language use in Brasil, or focusing on certain genres? That could influence your decision too.

  • Gerard O'Grady

    Hi Debbie,
    I enjoyed the poster. I am completely ignorant of the Brazilian context but wondered what constraints the judges operate with? A further issue is how do you disentangle bias from judicial activism? What linguistic features will you use to code your data and will you have sufficient context from your corpus data to allow you to do this.
    I’m sorry I don’t think your question has an answer other than the corpus needs to be as big as it needs to be. You will need to consider whether or not you want to breath or depth and how many features are relevant. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches but the one thing that is vital is to have reliable coding no matter what approach you do.



  • Kate Kavanagh

    Hi Debbie, I just noticed a comment that David left on Aurora’s poster that might interest you too, so copy’n’pasting:
    ‘David Griffin 15 June 2020
    Hi Aurora! You might be aware of this already, but as you’re starting to look into corpus methods, there’s a great free online corpus course put out by Lancaster Uni. They haven’t anounced the next time it’ll be run yet but I did it a few years ago and found it very helpful (I think you might be able to access older recordings somewhere, too?). You can check it out here: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/corpus-linguistics

  • Amanda Potts

    Nice poster and interesting topic! Just a few comments from me. I echo what others have said that it would be good to have a bit more understanding/context as far as your understanding of judicial activism. It also seems like quite a lot of the study is based on comparison, or keyness. This is quite a controversial method in CL, so it might be an idea to make use of a range of methods or ‘ways in’ to the data. Activist works are different genres than remarks, so will have both different lexis and grammar and keyness may not show much of interest. You may have better luck with something like semantic analysis of the remarks on their own, or grammatical investigation of persuasive constructions. As for the reference corpus, it depends on what you’re hoping to get from this and what makes the tags ‘bad’. If you want lexical items, the corpus should be bigger and the tagging doesn’t matter. If you want grammar, the corpus can be smaller but tagging matters quite a lot. I hope this helps!

  • Katy Jones

    Hi Debbie. Your poster is clear and easy to follow, so good work! I agree with Katharine that some definitions early on would be helpful for the reader/audience to interpret your aims. Let’s talk about the corpus issue in your panel!

  • Debbie Cabral

    Hi, everyone!
    Thank you so much for all your comments!
    I really should have introduced the Judicial Activism concept… my bad. The problem is there is so much to say about it! XD It has been used as synonym for judicialization and even judicial bias. So, yes, this is one of the challenges I will face in the literature review: making my definition of judicial activism clear and well justified.
    Just to hint it a bit, judicial activism is the action the judiciary takes when they believe constitutions or the legislative are not ensuring fundamental rights to a fast-pace changing society. Kmiec (2004) concludes ‘judicial activism’ is used in a pejorative way, which is not true among most Brazilian law scholarship.

    I don’t know them, but I will try and get in touch! Thank you for the hint.

    thanks for the feedback. Yes, I have been doing the Lancaster course on Futere Learn! It’s good! And I will also participate in the online summer course they are having! So i hope that by then I will be much better at CL! XD

    so far, the difference I can see between judicial activism and judicial bias is that the first aims at explicit helping one party, whereas the other harms one party in a more concealed way that might be conscious or not. Does that make sense?

    Amanda Potts,
    your comment was so useful! Yes, keyness would play a big role in the analysis, but I am also planning to use concordances. The research is still in its very early stages, so I know there is much to think about. Thank you very much for the input!

    Looking forward to the pannel, Katy!

  • Tereza Spilioti

    Thanks for sharing your work, Debbie! Also not clear about how to distinguish ‘judicial activism’ and ‘judicial bias’, as well as whether what may be conceived as ‘judicial activism’ can be compared with ‘environmental activism’? And, then, how do these terms relate with another big concept ‘impartiality’? If the latter is more clearly defined (or, at least, more extensively discussed) in the literature, would it be useful to start from that and touch on the other two notions (activism/bias) by unpacking the complexities of this term? Just a thought – good luck with the next steps!

  • Debbie Cabral

    Hi, Tereza!
    Thank you so much for your feedback! I do intend to unpack impartiality. It is quite a hard concept to analyse because it is usually analysed by the presence of bias, so finding the discursive features of impartiality is a challenge. Thank you again for the input!

  • Michael Handford

    Hi Debbie, great to see the progress you are making! Re the Brazilian reference corpus, I guess it depends what the criticisms concerning annotation are – as you are using it as a reference corpus, and if you plan to use it in its entirety, then some of these may not matter. As Amanda says, the size issue does depend on what you are planning to look at, but given that you are planning to use van Dijk’s mental models along with genre, I’d suspect that smaller with more contextual information would more appropriate. Good luck!

  • Virpi Ylanne

    Hi Debbie,
    good to see this progressing! I’m late here, sorry. As I’m not a corpus linguist, I don’t have an opinion about the proposed corpora. I was also a bit puzzled by the environmental activism reference (Greenpeace/ WWF), so I guess you’ll need to think about its relationship with your specific context. Are you able to talk to the Brazilian scholars about the Applied Linguists’ corpus? If you can create a dialogue, you’ll be able to assess its applicability and usefulness to your research. Good luck! :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *