Varieties of Plausibility? – Power of Interpretation in the “Post-Fact” Era

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 18:15
Oral Presentation
Danny OTTO, University of Rostock, Germany
“Facts” are constructed. That is nothing new and that does not qualify them as incorrect. It is not a question of being true or false, but of how “facts” are constructed and how we verify that they are well constructed (Latour). In what is called the “Post-Fact” Era the criteria of knowledge evaluation appear to have shifted. While scientific ways of verification used to be accepted not only in the scientific community, but also by policy makers and populations, we now find more opposition to the validity of scientific knowledge in various fields. How can we explain this loss of authority?

When “facts” are superseded by “deep stories” of felt truths (Hochschild) changes in power relations are implied. In my talk I want to focus on these relations with a power of interpretation approach. A power of “world-making” (Bourdieu) that controls the gaze, directs attention, and orientates actions. From this perspective the contrast is not “fact” vs. fiction, but interpretation vs. interpretation. The consequence is not that everything is arbitrary; this fallacy is what populists are exploiting when they appeal to personally felt or imagined truths. Instead it emphasizes the fabrication of interpretations and draws our attention to the careers of concepts and ideas. They might gain the status of factuality for a period of time, they may be controversial or face the “limbo of the might-have-beens” altogether (Law).

I perceive the dissemination and “success” of interpretations as entangled with heterogeneous human and non-human associations. Their plausibility depends on the connection between the associations and the evaluation criteria of connections in the respective setting. To illustrate my theoretical considerations I will use the example of a right-wing science watch blog (sciencefiles.org) and discuss how the authors aim to weaken (social) scientific knowledge to empower their own knowledge claims.