Understanding the Post-Factual World through Cultural Sociology of Emotions

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 19:06
Oral Presentation
Anna DURNOVA, Inistitute for Advanced Studies, Austria
“Post-Truth” was pronounced the word of the year in 2016. What followed was a vivid defence of truth by scientists, journalists, and politicians. It seems we are on our way to abandoning the notion of truth as we know it, if we consider the populist uprising and the raging against academic knowledge during Brexit debate or coming from the Trump administration. Scientists should raise their voices against the trend, and civil society should fight post-factualism.

Yet, exactly what should be said and done? Along current examples of the interplay of scientific knowledge with politics, the paper argues that we already lost the battle on truth a while ago. It examines truth as ‘sound knowledge’ - which once was seen as the cornerstone of modern government - through the lenses of emotions. The paper sets the stage by identifying the current post-factual politics as a result of the way emotions have been placed outside of truth production by modernity. Evidence-based political responsibility calling for the integration of scientific knowledge engendered the dichotomy of modern societies of civil rationality being threatened by uncivil emotionality. As a result, emotions have served as a way of delegitimizing both knowledge and the actors who harnessed emotions. Being consequently limited to tools of social movements, empowerment strategies and revolutions’ trump cards, emotions have been raised to virtues for those who are against the establishment; against accepted truth. And these virtues gained even more importance through recent rise of citizen participation.

The paper proposes to solve this puzzle by offering a cultural sociological analysis of emotions in truth production. As “performances of values and beliefs”, emotions enter evidence-making, they evaluate the range of actors and make them entitled to pronounce public concerns. As such, emotions have to be recognized as integral parts of political processes.