Forthcoming Edited Collection, “Affect, Algorithms and Propaganda: Interdisciplinary Research for the Age of ‘Post-Truth’ Media,” coming in 2020!

Following our successful collaborations, and the International Symposium (supported by a SSHRC Connections Grant) we hosted at the University of Toronto this past June, I am co-editing with Elizabeth Davis a cutting-edge collection titled Affect, Algorithms and Propaganda: Interdisciplinary Research for the Age of “Post-Truth” Media. Our aim is to have the book published by summer, 2020.

This book responds to the need for robust interdisciplinary scholarship on the relationship between modern information economies, digitally mediated sociality and emotionality, the resurgence of Western fascisms, and the rise of grassroots justice (and injustice) movements. “Post-truth”, the 2016 word of the year, achieved zeitgeist status in news around the world after “Brexit” and the U.S. Election of Donald Trump. Defined by “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief” (Oxford Dictionaries, n.d.)., skyrocketing use of the term evidenced public recognition of the powerful role of emotion in politics. Since then, the political context has only become more dire as information increases about the role of political operatives (such as the Trump campaign, Russian government, and Cambridge Analytica) in promoting “computational propaganda”, sowing mistrust and disinformation during elections and fomenting crises of trust in government and media. The rise of “fake news,” and the preponderance of right-wing and extremist views that dominate social and traditional media platforms, reveal the urgent need to understand how propaganda, (dis)information, affect, and emotion circulate through digital technologies. Political imagination is increasingly shaped by the nexus of corporate, military and political logics manifesting in and through algorithmic governance, psychometric profiling, and computational propaganda. Such uses of bioinformatics and micro-targeting made possible by the merging of behavioral science and big data foreground the critical role of emotion and affect in contemporary information warfare. What has become clear is that digital media propaganda, algorithms, and activism (known as “platform politics”) seek to inflame pre-existing emotional tensions surrounding racism, islamophobia, misogyny, and LGBTQ politics.  

Yet, while scholarship and investigative journalism continues to reveal the profound ways that emotional manipulation forms the center of today’s mediated political and economic landscapes, very little research takes stock of the philosophical study of emotion and the last three decades of the so-called “affective turn.” As a result, virtually all scholarship addressing the current crises of affective politics rely on limited, individualist models of understanding emotion from psychology, and have yet to benefit from enriched understandings of the sociality, and history, of emotions. Still less attention has been paid to the relationship between the contemporary affective politics and the actual political consequences, which is to say, the unequal stakes of the current political environment for people of color, women, immigrants, muslims, and other subordinated groups. 

This collection contributes much-needed cross-disciplinary approaches to the study of emotion, affect, digital media and politics, to address urgent questions including: How are political actors targeting emotions through digital media platforms to exacerbate racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, spread disinformation, and influence political behavior? What can we learn from the “post-truth” context beyond political punditry and journalistic self-aggrandizing, what does it signify, and what does it obscure? How are algorithms and mediated sociality affecting our sense of trust, truths, and what kinds of affective networks shape one’s sense of trust and truth? How can we track the evolution of the current affective politics of social media, and how do the different components of this landscape (including political, economic, military, and social movement actors) function? And what kinds of analyses are needed to understand the different political, military, and private sector actors involved in the current crises, and hold them accountable?    

To that end, this book uniquely brings together inter- and trans-disciplinary scholarship on affect and emotion, digital and social media, with a focus on critical race, feminist and anti-colonial/decolonial studies. In the interest of modeling the promise of inter- and cross-disciplinary scholarly collaboration, the collection features contributions from philosophy, media and communications studies, feminist and critical race studies, as well as public and private sector researchers to address the broad range of questions that need to be asked at this historical juncture in media, technology and politics: what is the relationship between emotion, truth, the crisis of trust in traditional media, the rise of fascism and right wing extremism, digital surveillance, social media, algorithmic governance, and neoliberal capitalism? What are the research and policy directions that need to be considered by academics as well as policy makers and journalists?

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