2015 Convention Theme

 The 2015 ASEEES Annual Convention will be held at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown on November 19-22.  

Convention Theme: "Fact"

2015 ASEEES President: Catriona Kelly, U of Oxford

Accuracy matters. Without a clear and full understanding of events current and past and their context, social trust will disappear. The “information wars” on the Internet in recent years have badly threatened precisely such trust. A surge of reports and categorical judgments, on the basis of selective, poor, or no information, has provoked an impoverishment of discussion. “Facts” circulate from blogs into politicians’ statements, and back again, acquiring authority with repetition. Despite the ease with which photographs can be edited, it is precisely photographs that often get marshaled as clinching evidence. Conversely, the word “fake” has acquired an abusive ring that brooks no argument. Yet it is no accident that both “fact” and “counterfeit” are derived from the same root Latin verb, with a range that covers both “doing” and “making”, pointing to the inevitable process of construction that takes place when events or phenomena are recorded and reviewed. As the philosopher Mary Midgley points out (Beast and Man, 1995), “What counts as a fact depends on the concepts you use, on the questions you ask” (her italics). Somewhere between the transcendent status of “truth” and the specifically professional resonance of “data”, the term “fact” requires from its users a complex but often unacknowledged process of classification, and an engagement with concepts such as “significance” alongside “accuracy” and “veracity”. As well as journalism and politics, the term is central to science and scholarship, and indeed to artistic creation (which may assert the primacy of fact, or on the other hand express its maker’s conviction that artistic truth is superior to mere reality). So the crucial issue is: how do we retain a sophisticated sense of these many ramifications of the factual, without sliding into bland generalizing relativism of a kind that plays into the hands of ideological distortions and disinformation?

Proposals for panels are invited that address conceptual dimensions of the factual, or its practical resonance, or both. For example, topics might include (without being limited to) current and past “information wars” in our region; the arguments over history and memory in post-socialist Eurasia and Eastern Europe; the practices of journalism in the region and of foreign journalism with reference to the region; the classification of evidence in different academic cultures; the borders between “fact” and “fiction” and how they are marked out and/or transcended; genre conventions of the documentary in literature and the arts; different perceptions of “useful information” among academics, policy-makers, creative artists, etc.; and the cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural applicability of the basic term (the presence across European languages of the term fakt/fact[e] may conceal variations in the precise understanding of the term; while terms used in other languages may have quite different semantic fields; the familiar truism from the social sciences, “The plural of anecdote is not data” begs the question of when and which evidence is in fact accepted as “data”).   

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