Upcoming Webinars

The Critical Realism Network Webinar Series focuses on questions of philosophy, morality, ethics, values, and how the social sciences can contribute to these topics.

Webinar abstracts

Truth and Democracy in the Age of Trump

Presenter: Professor Douglas Porpora, Drexel University

Date and Time: May 2, 12:00pm – 1:30pm EST

Meeting Description: 35 minute lecture followed by a Q&A

Registration here

Abstract: Critical realism has always been concerned with philosophical questions of truth and sociological questions of critique (one of the reasons it is called critical realism). These topics are particularly pertinent at the moment. Recently, in an article called “Entertainment Politics as a Modernist Project in a Baudrillard World” I suggested that from Jon Stuart to Samantha Bee, late night comedians are countering offenses against truth in politics in a way that escapes the positivist pose of “cool style Journalism.”

With the Trump administration, the very concept of truth is arguably in crisis. While the political level, many macro-social factors, like news commodification and fragmentation; ideological polarization; and the role of so-called “dark money”, are certain involved, at bottom, however, I would argue that we are still staggering from the way in which our shared concept of truth, still basically positivist in nature, has been destabilized.

In this webinar I will argue that truth is a democratic value and without a shared commitment to truth as a value across rival perspectives, persuasive dialogue breaks down. Deliberative democracy collapses into power politics, such as our situation in the U.S. I will lay out some of the matters at issue concerning deliberative democracy and the importance of truth to it, and explore how the disciplines of communication and sociology have and have not dealt with truth, and how professional journalism has sought to evade truth in favor of a norm of objectivity interpreted as “balance”. But I will also cover the academic destabilization of truth determination as a value neutral, foundationalist enterprise and how that instability was deployed first by the political left in the hermeneutics of suspicion but now more prominently by the political right. Along the way, I will speak of news fragmentation, social judgment theory, rhetoric, and the ethics of belief.

As Donald Trump would say, it will be great.

Big Data, Critical Realism, Human Agency and the Future of the Social Sciences

Presenter: Dr. Mark Carrigan, Cambridge University

Date and Time: June13, 11:00am – 12:30pm EST

Meeting Description: 35 minute lecture followed by a Q&A

Registration here

Abstract: The much hyped concept of ‘Big Data’ has served as a banner under which a range of problematic assumptions about the social world and our knowledge of it have been advanced. This webinar explores the history of big data, the epistemological stances associated with it and the social outcomes it leads to. I argue that it reinvigorates a project of the ‘evisceration of the human’: in this case reducing human agency to its behavioral traces registering empirically within digital infrastructures. If social science consolidates around such a reduction, it leaves us with a circumscribed understanding of ‘online order’, naturalizing the horizons of privately owned platforms and obscuring the political economy logically and empirically prior to them. The status of the human is a productive framework through which to analyze the intellectual underpinning to the emerging political economy of digital economy, as well as potential pole around which cultural resistance could consolidate. In this sense, the politics of big data and the philosophy of big data cannot be pulled apart and critical realism offers important conceptual resources for making sense of this still under-theorized relation.