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Authors: Maldonado, John Anthony
Advisors: Fernandez-Kelly, Patricia
Contributors: Sociology Department
Keywords: post-truth
public understandings of science
science and technology studies
Subjects: Sociology
Issue Date: 2022
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: In 2016, the Oxford Dictionaries cited “post-truth” as their word of the year. Defining the adjective as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief,” the term gained popularity following the EU referendum in the UK and the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Given the proliferation of mis/disinformation and conspiracy theories, post-truth was seemingly the perfect characterization of the current political moment. In this dissertation, I problematize that concept by suggesting that politics is inherently post-truth. That is, the legitimation of claims as truth is endogenous to the political process. I develop my argument in three empirical chapters. The first takes aim at post-truth as a periodizing concept by investigating competing knowledge claims concerning race and legislative battles throughout the 20th century. I show that contestation concerning the “facts” of race were central to public policy debates. The second chapter draws on fieldwork with COVID-19 skeptics in the “medical freedom” movement. These skeptics are routinely described as being motivated by a distrust of science, but I argue that dismissing such individuals as being “anti-science” is a mischaracterization. COVID-19 skeptics support and even valorize science but believe that the mainstream scientific consensus regarding the pandemic is itself unscientific. The final chapter provides a content analysis of an online community devoted to discussion of heterodox positions concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. While much of the discussion concerning online misinformation focuses heavily on the role played by technology, particularly algorithmic recommendation systems, I instead focus on how epistemic and interaction norms help explain the “stickiness” of misinformation (Tripodi, 2021). The primary contribution of the present work is to challenge the notion that society has fallen from a formerly epistemically pure past by illustrating how conflict over “truth” and “facts” is not prior, but inherent to politics.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Sociology

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