Post-truth and the Search for Objectivity: Political Polarization and the Remaking of Knowledge Production
The United States has entered an era of “post-truth” as even seemingly proven facts seem open to contestation. The contests over facts range from the existential (when conservatives deny climate change) to the trivial (when the Trump administration questions the audience figures of its own inauguration ceremony). This essay combines two literatures on post-truth that rarely speak to each other: institutional political science analyses of American political polarization and STS analyses of “objectivity” in science and public life. I argue that post-truth is the outcome of two interlocking processes that have transformed the American public sphere: (1) the re-configuring of American political identities around the Republican and Democratic parties, and (2) the establishment of an alternative media ecosystem around the Republican Party whose legitimacy derives from its questioning of the “objectivity” of mainstream media institutions. Drawing on STS theorizations of the construction of objectivity, I contend that to recreate an objective public sphere will require an institutional arrangement that is based not on demarcating facts from values—or right facts from wrong facts—but on demarcating people and institutions who seek to enter this public sphere.
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