Communication, Media and Culture

Post-Truth Scholar Jayson Harsin Wins Peer-Reviewed Award

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Professor Harsin

The American University of Paris is thrilled to announce that Professor Jayson Harsin, former Chair of AUP’s Department of Communication, Media and Culture, has won the International Award for Excellence from Information, Medium and Society – The Publishing Studies Research Network. This annual award for newly published research, chosen by the network’s members, recognized Harsin’s article “Post-Truth Reflections on Public Origins and Functions of Publishing” as an outstanding contribution to the field of publishing studies.

Harsin’s work was selected from among the ten highest-ranking submissions emerging from the network’s peer-review process. “The article is an important piece of my developing theory of post-truth society and politics,” says Harsin, who joined AUP in 2003. “This award is a great honor in mid-career and a validation of a project I've spent 15 years developing.”

Scholars and commentators often focus on attention-grabbing fake news and conspiracy theories in their discussion of post-truth, while focusing less on publishing, which Harsin describes as “a key institution of truth discovery, production, maintenance and deterioration.” Nevertheless, the history of publishing relates to publicity, news production and in-depth knowledge – all valuable tenets of a democratic society. “In the article, I was able to trace the historical function of publishing as a fundamental force of truth and falsehood,” explains Harsin. “Amid the profit initiative of contemporary online platforms and the deep infrastructure designed for the monetization of attention, I argue that publishing may want to return to its origins and engage in ruthless self-criticism about its contemporary role in its time-honored function of making things public.”

Harsin’s work expands on scholarship that has highlighted publishing’s historical role in elite truth production. Publishing, in this way, has served as a basis for education and has also influenced state policy. It is also situated in the context of changing discourses relating to the internet, which moved from a utopian narrative in the 1990s to a more critical context following the millennium, within which harassment and amateur, sometimes inaccurate news was consistently rampant; personal expression became further monetized and monitored; and dialogue and deliberation were shown not to have lived up to the rosy predictions of 1990s techno-optimists. “The internet is widely public, though its business model is private and has nothing to do with any normative goals of democracy,” says Harsin. “Politics, business, social life – they're all covered in a thick shroud of distrust, which makes activities in those areas of human life volatile.”

He argues that many of today’s major challenges, including climate change, the pandemic, terrorism and ethnic conflicts, are simultaneously communication problems, as prominent and formerly fringe figures compete to gain public trust as legitimate truth-tellers. “My contribution has especially been to complicate naive theories about what caused the situation often dubbed ‘post-truth,’” explains Harsin. “It is much more than a problem of fake news, disinformation, gullible citizens in need of ‘media literacy’ or social media platforms in need of ethical reform.”