Confronting the Politics of Disinformation: What Can Sociologists Do?

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 10:45
Oral Presentation
Celine-Marie PASCALE, American University, USA
Governments, corporations, and political groups are advancing massive disinformation campaigns around the globe. Composed of lies, propaganda, and misdirection, these campaigns invite social sciences in general, and sociology in particular, to fight back by entrenching ourselves in the world of “objective facts.” This path is both important and perhaps irresistible when politicians and media openly make statements that are certifiably false and when sophisticated propaganda efficiently mixes fact and fiction. However, a retrenchment of empiricism will not deliver us from this historical moment, just as it did not prevent it from arriving.

In addition to holding empirical ground to combat disinformation campaigns, sociologists must also effectively offer a careful delineation of processes of signification intended primarily to coerce rather than to inform or critique. Since all systems of signification are intended to persuade, from this perspective, we are not faced with a radical change in public and political discourse but with a violent intensification of its coercive power. This keynote considers the importance of interpretive scholarship for addressing disinformation in public and political discourse—especially, in light of right wing extremism.

For people who have been historically disenfranchised and/or dispossessed, the violence of this current historical moment is not new. There is more continuity, more ‘ordinariness,’ in these times than one might like to admit. However, within this continuity, inevitably there are and will be new and novel challenges. This keynote touches on some of the continuities, intensifications, and disjunctures produced around the globe by the rise of disinformation campaigns. It concludes by opening pragmatic and epistemic conversations regarding various forms of resistance, subversion, and transformation.