CfP International Political Anthropology special issue: Decoding the Post-Truth Society
The recent popularity of the term ‘post-truth’ captures something of our problematic relationship to a sense of shared reality in a 21st-century society dominated by digital echo-chambers, fractured politics and contested forms of expertise. Everywhere in contemporary societies we find the symptoms of an epistemological crisis. There is the sheer scale of information and its constant churning, far beyond the capacity of anyone to meaningfully integrate, and the cognitive rewiring and impacts on information processing styles that result. Exacerbating this, there is the dissolution of the frameworks which provided a shared intellectual horizon for most educated people in western societies until the late twentieth century: not merely the ideologies or ‘grand narratives’ of Marxism, socialism or liberal progressivism, but literary canons, shared national histories, and the rudiments of a common Christian heritage. Nor does science any longer provide the certainties which religion or ideology proffered in the past: on the contrary, a profound replication crisis afflicts many fields of scientific research, with findings published in even top peer-reviewed journals proving impossible to replicate by subsequent researchers. Neither can we expect enlightenment from a Habermasian public sphere in which educated citizens engage in rational debate to achieve consensus about the common good. Instead, online culture sees the proliferation of echo chambers’ and ‘filter bubbles’ which generate increasingly separate and radically opposed informational sub-cultures. Finally, there is the generalised scepticism with which much of the population regard the narratives and ‘facts’ offered by political and corporate leaders, journalists, scientists, and ‘experts’ of all kinds. Never have we had access to more information, yet never have we been less certain of anything; never have we had more facilities to engage in commentary and analysis, yet never has there been less real debate.
Paradoxically, therefore, our ‘knowledge society’ is simultaneously a ‘post-truth society’. This can be defined as a situation in which the excess of information over our ability to process it, and a radical distrust of social institutions responsible for filtering and interpreting that information such as the media or politics, leads to an increasing abandonment of the ideal of objective truth, and its replacement by a reliance on emotion and personal narratives. ‘Truth’ is no longer defined by its consonance with a reality which seems to have retreated beyond reach, but as the personal truth of the individual or whatever simply ‘feels right’. For those concerned with influencing public opinion, the corollary is that control of the narrative is more important than any concern with objective reality or ‘facts.’
The winter 2022 edition of International Political Anthropology will be a special issue dedicated to the concept of a ‘post truth society.’ Do we inhabit a post truth society? If so, what does this mean? How and why has the ability of society to establish a shared truth diminished? What are the implications for politics, culture and society? What, if anything, can be done about it?