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AFS Review: Notes

Advance Reading Available for 2017 AFS Panel on "Fake News"

Saturday, October 7, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Lorraine Cashman
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by Dorothy Noyes (The Ohio State University) --

In connection with the 2017 forum “Fake News, Part IV: The Politics of Knowledge in a Crisis of Trust” (05-02, Thurs 10:15) we are circulating a draft essay by Bill Ellis, whom we hope to Skype in but who will not be attending the meeting in person. Some of our attendees may like to consider Ellis’ provocation--“Fake News”: Propaganda, Disinformation, or Contemporary Legend?”--in advance of the conversation. We are also posting the long abstract of the session: after some opening thoughts from the listed participants, we’ll open it up for discussion. We look forward to your ideas.

This panel is last in a four-part series on "Fake News," sponsored by the AFS New Directions in Folklore Section.

Bill Ellis, "'Fake News': Propaganda, Disinformation, or Contemporary Legend?"

05-02, Fake News, Part IV: The Politics of Knowledge in a Crisis of Trust
Thursday, 10:15-12:15


Dorothy Noyes, Ohio State, (chair)

Bill Ellis, Penn State

Russell Frank, Penn State

Diane Goldstein, Indiana University

Tom Mould, Elon University

Patricia A. Turner, UCLA

When the time comes for Merriam-Webster to choose the new word (or phrase) of the year, "fake news" will probably be on the list. To folklorists, however, fake news is nothing new. The complex of truth claims, entertainment, and fabrication in fake news depends upon processes that are familiar from the study of contemporary legend, rumor, and allied genres. This forum is the fourth part of a conversation examining fake news from folkloristic perspectives.

This concluding forum addresses the interlocking politics of public truth claims and folkloristic knowledge-making in a climate of increasingly generalized suspicion. US-based folklorists have frequently studied mistrust between particular social groups, but in contrast to some of their international colleagues they have not hitherto been confronted with a crisis of trust of the present scale and complexity. The listed participants on the forum will share initial thoughts derived from a range of case studies before opening up the discussion on these questions:

  • What challenges are posed to established folkloristic approaches by the emic concept of fake news and the realities it indexes?
  • After setting aside such concepts as “fakelore" for the rigid binaries they draw, what tools do we have for assessing bad faith in communication? What risks lie in our making such judgments?
  • What intellectual resources does our field offer for combating social mistrust and beginning to re-establish shared social facts?

Beyond these questions for the field, we seek to articulate specifically folkloristic perspectives on some of the large challenges of the moment:

  • The rhetoric of truth and lies in political performance and political communication. What is the relationship of "fighting words" in a partisan struggle to the consequential beliefs on which action can be based?
  • The social conditions of epistemological trust between unequal actors and among communities. What can we learn from folklore's emphasis on interpersonal (even if mediated) social interaction?
  • A change of norms. As we make a possible transition from the Habermasian regime of truth and evidence to an Orwellian "post-truth" in which reality is a function of social power, what kinds of communication across different vernacular positions remain or become possible?
  • The practical challenge of public communication on delicate issues in a climate of distrust. How can folklorists advance their knowledge claims successfully in public programming and the classroom?



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