International Workshop "Beyond Post-Truth: Media Landscapes in the 'Age of Insecurity'"

On 3-4 June 2019, International Workshop "Beyond Post-Truth: Media Landscapes in the 'Age of Insecurity'" took place in St. Petersburg. It was organised in collaboration with IGITI. We are glad to present a report on the event and video recordings of some talks.
Beyond Post-Truth: Media Landscapes in the “Age of Insecurity”
International Workshop, St. Petersburg
3-4 June 2019

organized by Daria Petushkova and Jan Surman (both IGITI Higher School of Economics, Moscow) in cooperation with Ilya Kalinin (Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences of St. Petersburg State University), Dietlind Hüchtker (GWZO Leipzig), Friedrich Cain, and Bernhard Kleeberg as part of the research initiative Political Epistemologies of Eastern Europe.

Funded by the Poletayev Institute for Theoretical and Historical Studies in the Humanities , National Research University Higher School of Economics , as well as the Leibniz Institute for the History and Culture of Eastern Europe (GWZO Leipzig), the Max Weber Center for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies at the University of Erfurt , and the Justus-Liebig-University Gießen (chair for Allgemeiner Gesellschaftsvergleich, LOEWE Research Centre on Conflict Regions in Eastern Europe).

The workshop continued discussions from three other workshops (see, for example, A New Culture of Truth? and Soviet States and Beyond: Political Epistemologies of/and Marxism 1917-1945-1968). Whereas the earlier meetings examined the pluralisation of epistemologies and truth claims, now the focus shifted to modes of getting along in this new multiplicity, to how people, or groups adapt to the alleged “Age of insecurity” and to attempts to get beyond.

In his opening keynote, Bernhard Kleeberg expanded the disintegrative potential that rivaling epistemologies can develop. As he argued from a praxiological perspective, we might not yet have entered an age of Post Truth, but only recently reached the Age of Truth where knowledge is conflated with truth and the latter becomes the fundamental claim of any speech act. Picking up on this, Diego Han connected truth to a centuries old “hierarchy of knowledge” (Kajfosz), which would not be of historical novelty. However, with this hierarchy weakening during a technological change of communication systems, something new might very well be traceable. Andreas Langenohl suggested to think of Post Truth not as a temporal, sequential change, but as a new constellation: radically different, but yet under old headlines. Post Truth might just mark the “end of an illusion” during which truth becomes moralised and normatised.

Several papers analysed the politics of contemporary media practices. Philipp Kohl imported the technical term “image stabilisation” from photography into the analysis of political aesthetics in order to show how camera positioning and post production can strengthen (or ironically break) specific representations. Konstantin Gabov concluded that especially a platform like Youtube have transformed from a “culture of participation” to “culture of critics” that can empower but also produce asymmetries in power structures at the same time. Olga Savinskaya reported on differences in discursive ethics between various social media platforms. Yet, other (younger or older) cohorts would likely have different strategies and ethics. Olga Solovyeva, Alexander Zhigaylov, Philipp Smirnov, and Polina Boyarshinova looked at truth imageries in new media, and especially visuals on Instagram. As they claimed based on interviews they conducted and Instagram content analysis, new media landscapes are thought to be suitable to communicate personal beliefs and values, but in turn indirectly influence the imagination, and hence politics and (post-)truth.

With regards to contemporary representations of historical and present-day Ukraine, Zhanna Mylogorodoska reminded how whole states can disappear and leave gaps to fill on multiple layers of semi-public discourse. As she described, different visual representations, often individualised and cut for specific groups, underscore specific political truth claims. Sophie Schmäing contrasted this with an analysis of the physical and imaginary constitution of electoral practices that showed the high ability of referendums (for example) to make political entities visible.

Greg Yudin put the question of truth into the context of hegemony of expression and information. As he argued, people from lower social classes were denied not only to have a voice in the 20th century, but also instructed how to understand truth and what it means. Thus, political post-truth claims and populist movements, which do propagate these, seem to offer ways to counter a “hegemony of truth” based on technocracy, rule of expert and a positivist idea of science. Aleksander Bigbov addressed the issue of rationality of the White Stripes protests in Russia and Yellow Vests in France. He showed how situational rationality develops within these movements, and also how it is made consistent with pre-protest values, including formal education. The issue how a special rationality is constructed that can accommodate both social criticism and conspiracy theories, was illustrated with interviews Bikbov has collected over the years. Armen Aramyan spoke about possible connections between advertising and the production of non-truth and how theoretical Marxist considerations and vernacular conceptualisations (gained from ethnographic research) might interfere with each other.

Darya Khokhlova and Nikita Khokhlov analysed the thin line that might part fake news from irony and the repercussions on official and unofficial memory of the Soviet Union in Russia. In their talk they looked at popular Russian musicians, like the pop-star Monetochka, who ironically reflected on the Soviet period and the 1990’s in their songs by contrasting myths about both periods to contemporary official governmental discourse. While the Khokhlovas concentrated on the “continuity” of the Soviet in post-Soviet times, Ilya Yablokov analysed the role of conspiracy theories concerned with the collapse of the Soviet Union. In his account these conspiracy theories are particularly powerful nowadays, providing legitimacy for the current government.

Finally, the artist cooperative Chto Delat (What’s to be done?) presented their short film “One Night in a Social Network” about the medial death and resurrection of Ukrainian journalist Arkady Babchenko in 2018. The “opera farce“ follows the facebook timeline of a user, who gains all his information solely from the social network, respectively his “bubble” within. Both the movie and the following discussion challenged the division of truth and post-truth in a medialised world. (Social) media seem to circulate information as news and to purposefully aim at short attention spans, which often get emotions involved, emotions cast into a handful of facebook’s emoticons.

Video recordings of talks
Conference Programme

Report by Jan Surman and Friedrich Cain