Review of Michael A. Peters, Sharon Rider, Mats Hyvönen & Tina Besley (Eds.) (2018). Post-Truth, Fake News: Viral Modernity & Higher Education. Singapore: Springer. 224 Pp. ISBN 9789811080128 (Hardback)
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KeywordsPost-truth Postdigital Critical thinking Education Higher education
The concept of truth as the basis of authenticity and trust is dialectically intertwined with the development of human society. From exchanges of information between individuals, to social development from the original communities to modern-day nations, truth has always been a fundamental value in the public sphere. Post-Truth, Fake News: Viral Modernity & Higher Education (Peters et al. 2018) contextualizes and epistemologically defines the concept of truth by developing it towards the recent denomination of post-truth and its social, political and educational implications. Under different meanings such as false news, fake news, and alternative facts, post-truth harms the fundamental values that define and structure a society. Post-Truth, Fake News contextualizes around three main sections: post-truth as a problematic reality, post-truth as a controversial fact, and post-truth as a social problem. It also explores possible implications for higher education, that provide for minimizing the negative effects of the post-truth society.
In the first section, ‘Philosophy in a Post-Truth World’, Steve Fuller presents the concept of truth as derived from an old English word troth and carries out a retrospective philosophical and epistemic revision of the concept. Sharon Rider establishes a union between neologisms truth and ‘wikiality’. She asks what happens when something is considered true by the simple fact that a majority agrees, and clarifies the intrinsic meaning of the expression ‘being right’. Information overload and research cutbacks inspire Catherine Legg’s questioning of reasons why truth cannot be configured as an explicit objective. The objective, she says, on the part of professionals would be to pay attention to their own actions in such a way that they listen to opposing opinions and put pressure against the current situation. Jeff Malpas introduces the concept of ‘failure’ as an inevitable companion to all human activity and the limitation of human beings. He introduces readers to truth, wisdom, and criticism, in order to understand our own limitations and their relationship with the university environment as the basis of knowledge.
In the second section, ‘Politics, the Papers and the Public’, Michael A. Peters analyses truth and lies as complex cultural practices. According to Peters, concepts are human inventions that have nothing to do with reality, yet we take them as true, forgetting that they are metaphors. Understood as a language game, lying is difficult to differentiate from truth since sometimes there is no intention to deceive and other times the truths are incomplete; the problem arrives when lying is justified as a tool for exercising political power. Douglas Kellner suggests a reflection on the figure of Donald Trump as the greatest representative of post-truth. He exemplifies through events that occurred during Trump’s political campaign, with an accent on social networks, and highlights the need for educational reconstruction for survival of US democracy. Petar Jandrić presents lying as a human characteristic that happens in every human relationship. He connects post-truth to emotions and claims that post-truth cannot be counteracted by reason and trust alone; the resulting insecurities can only be compensated by a full critical pedagogy.
George Lăzăroiu highlights challenges pertaining to determining what news is. The ethics of journalism is fundamental, since journalism does not only disseminate information, but also selects information that may or may not be relevant to the public. Mats Hyvönen claims that emotions prevail over facts and reason in a mediatized society. Commercialized universities depend on the media for their recognition, and their productivity is measured by the number of publications or citations in indexed journals. Concepts of ‘university’ and ‘academy’ used to have a close relationship, but now their separation is progressive; critical responses to this trend require a commitment to the existing world and to the world of the future. Derek R. Ford introduces the postmodern as a part of the modern so that there is no denial between the two. Ford proposes the search for a new, just truth that moves away from current capitalist networks and advocates critique as an alternative to post- truth.
In the last section, ‘Pedagogy and Postmodernity’, Michael A. Peters points out the lack of critique in the field of education and its substitution by instrumental pedagogy at the service of the state. Trump has demonstrated the power of lies, thus making it necessary to combat post-truth politics and governments. Liz Jackson and Charles Bingham emphasize merit-based education. They relate truth and post-truth to this meritocratic and educational phenomenon since the search for truth seems to be the ultimate goal of education. Nesta Devine represents the opposition of the prefix ‘post’ to indicate an ‘anti’, with which she argues that the ‘dominant facts’ have disappointed the public and therefore the ‘false news’ satisfy their hopes and comforts without any verification. This problem connects with the need established by Tracy Bowell to foster critical thinking understood as a form of activism. According to Bowell, critical thinking has transformative powers and allows us to play our role as participatory citizens. Carl Te Hira Mika and Jacoba Matapo relate the phenomena of truth and post-truth with collective knowledge(s) and point out that post-truth is a spectacle rejected for going against a perceived vision of objectivity. In the last chapter, Henry A. Giroux analyses false news and its consequences at the political, educational and social levels, exemplified by Trump’s administration. The role of the educational sphere is fundamental and must be disassociated from any market-driven takeover.
Digitality is inherent to postmodernity, to post-truth society, and therefore to new critical pedagogies which might counterbalance problems exposed in Post-Truth, Fake News: Viral Modernity & Higher Education. However, as new technologies and social networks have been integrated progressively into our daily lives and have ceased to be new and revolutionary, the digital revolution is no more. The postdigital era does not literally mean the end of the digital context but rather the critical and reflective mentality that has social, political, and economic consequences (Peters and Besley 2018). The digital once signaled freedom and openness, but these ideals have progressively been lost. Consequently, the postdigital is a theoretical rupture and a new continuation of eternal social struggles (Jandrić et al. 2018). Postdigital nature of public discourse is evident throughout Post-Truth, Fake News: Viral Modernity & Higher Education, particularly in new terminologies that go beyond truth and intermingle with deception – provoking both new forms of criticism and historical continuity (Jandrić et al. 2018). Therefore, the urgent need to create (educational) strategies for dealing with post-truth also need to be postdigital. With its double historical mission of teaching and research, higher education is particularly vulnerable to ‘alternative facts’. Therefore, as repeatedly emphasized by authors in Post-Truth, Fake News: Viral Modernity & Higher Education, studies of digital culture cannot be separated from studies of culture in general (Jandrić 2017).
Post-Truth, Fake News: Viral Modernity & Higher Education encompasses the social, educational and political consequences of post-truth from many different perspectives. Generating a very broad and well-argued body of knowledge, this book is a key reading for anyone who wants to understand various theoretical and historical perspectives to the term post-truth and its fundamental relationships to education. It is necessary to promote a critical citizenship that can be organized under the practice of participatory culture. Educators working at different educational stages, especially in higher education, play a fundamental role in providing their students with resources, skills and tools to fight against the social injustices that feed anti-democratic practices. An educated and critical citizenry is necessary to denounce the present moment. In a context where technologies increasingly determine our existence in the world and our ways of producing and accessing knowledge, we must ask a critical question: What should we believe in, and why? We must conceive and exercise education from the position of social, ethical and critical commitment with the final objective, as emphasized by several authors, in the search for a new fair truth. With its combination of deep theorizing and uncompromising commitment for justice, Post-Truth, Fake News: Viral Modernity & Higher Education superbly rises to this challenge, offers ground-breaking work which helps its readers navigate muddy waters of post-truth, and serves as an essential stepping stone for researchers to come.
- Peters, M. A., & Besley, T. (2018). Critical philosophy of the Postdigital. Postdigital Science and Education, 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-018-0004-9.
- Peters, M. A., Rider, S., Hyvönen, H., & Besley, T. (Eds.). (2018). Post-truth, fake news: Viral Modernity & Higher Education. Singapore: Springer.Google Scholar