Democratic Politics in the Post-Truth Era
Convenors: Dr Clayton Chin (University of Melbourne), Dr Simon Kaye (King’s College London)
Outline and key questions:
This workshop invites contributions from a broad diversity of political scholars in order to address an important, current problem: how do we reappraise the theory and practice of democracy in light of epistemic trends in contemporary real-world politics?
The last twenty-four months have seen the culmination of a variety of political and social trends in extant liberal democracies. The role of experts in public discourse – and the trust placed in them by democratic participants – has been repeatedly undermined, first by an evident lack of predictive ability in a succession of key political and economic moments, and then explicitly by politicians giving voice to an apparent public rejection of an epistemic upper-crust and its perceived domination of public affairs. The once-reliable tendency of majoritarian procedures to produce relatively centrist political outcomes has given way to the rise of more radical political parties and interest groups, some of which now pursue seemingly Orwellian strategies from their new positions of authority. In Turkey, President Erdoğan makes use of a ‘state enemy’ to frame his constitutional power-grabs and assaults on mainstream media freedoms. In the USA, President Trump decries all contradictory sources and critical journalism as ‘fake news’. The new and social media, meanwhile, have become highly-charged engines for the public’s political polarisation, with unmediated (and often inaccurate) governmental claims mingling with conspiracy theories, exaggerated ‘clickbait’ content designed to insult or outrage, and a strong tendency toward systematised selection-bias in the average person’s encounters with news and political information. The reality of widespread and often radical public ignorance provides the potting-soil for these trends, and more.
These dynamics raise innumerable questions that could lead to a number of academic responses. We outline here a few potential lines of questioning, while inviting wider examinations of these questions from political theorists.
First, at this point the role of democratic theory has become unclear. Can it offer explanations for this moment in real politics, or even begin to outline the ways in which epistemic changes and improvements could begin to address these issues? Or must extant democratic theory be abandoned – wholesale, or in favour of a new generation of more epistemically realistic and sceptical lines of argument and analysis?
Second, the consequences of academic trends on wider cultural currents becomes relevant when questions of the relation between the public and experts dominate as they now do. Have interpretivism and post-modernism engendered meaningful levels of subjectivism and relativism in the wider public, and do they bear some degree of responsibility for the epistemic flexibility that makes post-truth politics a viable campaigning strategy? If the mainstream of political and economic analysis is unable to predict or explain the current development of real politics, might there be a real case for the rejection of expertise?
Finally, perhaps on some level we are wrong to treat this political moment as exceptional. After all, deception, spin, and half-truths are a fundamental and factored-in part of political process throughout history. We are quite used to the evasiveness and biased representations of a political class that is practiced in such epistemic manoeuvres on every part of the ideological spectrum. So how new is ‘post-truth’, really?
Given the broad and foundational nature of these challenges and their relevance to all traditions in political and democratic theory, we invite papers offering a broad-based and interdisciplinary engagement from a variety of methodological perspectives and traditions within political theory that address such problems and questions.
Please submit a 500-word abstract for your proposed paper by the end of the day on 05/06/17. We will aim to respond to these within a week.
All abstracts and enquiries about the workshop and should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
At present we aim to allow for 30 minutes per presentation, but this may be subject to change.
You may be eligible for a bursary to cover registration costs. The details for these can be found on the MANCEPT website. The deadline for Bursary applications is 16/06/17.
We look forward to reading your abstracts!
Dr Simon Kaye – Dr Clayton Chin