Can you decipher the word TRUPM

Change in politics?

Gary S. Schaal

To person

is professor of political science with a focus on political theory at the Helmut Schmidt University in Hamburg.
[email protected]

Dannica Fleuß

To person

holds a doctorate in political science and is a research assistant at the Chair of Political Science, in particular political theory, at the Helmut Schmidt University in Hamburg. [email protected]

Sebastian stupid

To person

is a graduate social scientist and research assistant at the chair for political science, especially political theory at the Helmut Schmidt University in Hamburg. [email protected]

Rarely does a term seem to bring the zeitgeist and the collective state of mind of a society to the point as "post-factual", which the Society for German Language chose in 2016 as the word of the year. [1] Within a few months, an interpretation of reality in all areas of German society - politics, the feature pages, science, but also the general public - gained such broad acceptance that one can speak of a new "great narrative". [2] It tells a story of decay in which the great achievements of the Enlightenment and modernity - including rationality, objectivity, scientific, factual reference, democracy - are displaced by emotionality, irrationality and new authoritarian political structures. [3]

In the sphere of the political, not only post-factual politicians and post-factual politics are identified, but a post-factual democracy is already being seen. [4] Whoever benefits from this diagnosis of the times is clear to some: "The winner is the new right that laughs at the truth, stirs up emotions and, with the proclamation of a new age, even gets its lies legitimized." [5] Perhaps the new right is that the only political winner of this development, but the diagnosis is discursively carried across all political camps. The outlined richness of facets and above all the thematic breadth of the "post-truth" led to the fact that beyond the new rights of "post-factual times" [6] and the beginning of a "post-factual age (s)" was proclaimed.

Regardless of whether "post-factual" is used critically or more neutrally diagnostic or whether the post-factual is even invoked affirmatively, as in recourse to "alternative facts" [8]: A real phenomenon is always taken as the basis. We would like to leave aside the problem of whether these phenomena apply empirically in this article and instead focus on two questions that are located at the level of public discourse on "post-facticity".

The debates about post-factuality are mostly perceived as a single discourse. This is a decisive factor for the attractiveness of the term, because only in this way could a "great narrative" be constructed. Empirically, however, it can be shown that several clearly distinguishable topics exist in parallel in the discursive field of "post-facticity". Against this background it is first Question: Why are debates about post-factuality interpreted as a discourse?

On the one hand, terms bring complex empirical phenomena to the point and thus enable discursive socio-political debate. On the other hand, they construct the reality that they (supposedly) only name. The dialectic of concretization and construction is our starting point second Question: Why was "post-factual" so successful in discourse? Has the social reality in Germany changed so radically within a very short time that his career was imperative? Or does this result from a new labeling of well-known phenomena that are thematically very heterogeneous?

We would like to answer these two questions in the following: on the one hand empirically based on a content analysis of newspaper articles, on the other hand with a cultural interpretation by embedding the phenomenon of post-facticity in its larger socio-political context.

Empirical approximation

In order to approach our initial questions empirically, we carried out a content analysis of all German-language newspaper articles published between July 2016 - when the German-language discussion about "post-factuality" began - and August 2017 in which "post-factual" or a related term such as "post-truth" was used and which were available via the database provider LexisNexis. After excluding duplicates, letters to the editor, tables of contents and event announcements, this resulted in a corrected text corpus of 1515 editorial newspaper articles, which we were able to fully include in the analysis using the method of text mining without having to make a random selection. [9]

Using frequency analyzes, we first traced the frequency of central term fields of the "post-factual" discourse over time and differentiated according to category. [10] Since pure frequency analyzes are only of limited informative value because they cannot decipher the meaning dimension of texts, we then used topic modeling, [11] which enables the interpretation of the meaning dimension of large text corpora on the basis of quantitative analyzes. The algorithm on which topic modeling is based identifies words that appear in the corpus more than randomly distributed across all documents at the same time as a topic. If they are linguistically distinct, he can also identify several such topics in one corpus. Topic models are valuable when exploring large corpora of text because they enable the identification of long-term lines of development.

The frequency analysis shows that the use of the word field "post-factual" is subject to strong fluctuations in the study period. It reached its peak in December 2016 with around 650 mentions throughout the month, after which it fell to around 100 within three months and then continued to decline (illustration 1). With a view to other central term fields of the discourse, our frequency analysis can confirm the common thesis that post-facticity and emotions form a thematic unit: The relative sum of the mentions of this term field is constantly around 50 percent lower than that of "post-factual", the development over the However, time is almost identical. It is revealing that the name field "Trump" is not only used intensively earlier than the word "post-factual", but also that the usage patterns of the two terms differ significantly from one another. [12] The use of the word field "Fake" also starts later than that of "Trump" and also has its own course.

For the contextualization of these frequency developments it is revealing that the term "post-factual" has been used in a political sense in the United States since 2011, as an analysis of the search queries directed to Google on Google Trends shows. Search queries rose rapidly, especially during the 2016 US presidential campaign. An interview by the US news broadcaster CNN with Donald Trump's advisor, Newt Gingrich, on July 22, 2016, in which he equated feelings with facts, had a viral effect. [13] The associated term "fake" relates largely to "fake news", Trump's term for the critical journalism of the "liberal establishment", and is used continuously by him. Its use is increasing in the German-language press as part of the coverage of the term "alternative facts" popularized by Trump's adviser Kellyanne Conway. Subsequently, the term is also used in connection with domestic political issues. The "post-factual" is thus a discourse that is culturally anchored in US politics and was initially imported into the German discourse through reporting on the US pre-election campaign and, in particular, on the presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Central terms of the "post-factual" discourse over time (& copy own calculations)


The high point in the use of the word "post factual" in German-language newspapers in December 2016 resulted from reporting on the election of "post factual" as the word of the year by the Society for German Language, which was announced on December 9th. A few months earlier, on September 19, 2016, Chancellor Angela Merkel had said after the Berlin Senate election about the poor performance of the CDU: "It has recently been said that we were living in post-factual times. That should mean that people are no longer interested in facts , they only follow the feelings. "[14]

The use of "post-factual" in journalistic reporting clearly passed its zenith in autumn 2017. This does not imply that the concept has become obsolete. If one calls to mind the short attention spans of public discourse and the news logic of the mass media, it is rather remarkable how long and intensely "post-factual" was used.

Composition of the text corpus by department
In order to be able to interpret the temporal extent of this intensive use appropriately, it is helpful to refer to the distribution of the newspaper articles in the corpus by department (table). [15] Newspapers function both as mirrors and as constructors of reality. The reporting in the political section (n = 317) largely reflects the actions and statements of political actors and thus the relevance of "post-factual" within the political discourse itself. The situation is different in the features section (n = 426), because the culture pages, just like opinion and comment (n = 256), are the space in a newspaper in which the pace of political events, press releases and interviews does not have to be followed, but the Editors can actively intervene in socio-political debates and take a meta-reflective position. If one compares the numbers of published articles by department alone, the reflection articles clearly predominate.