The phrase Negotiating truth was originally suggested as a conceptual label for a research project analyzing the role of emotions in the public discourse on science and scientific discoveries (funded by the Hertha Firnberg Program /FWF Austrian Science Fund, 2012 – 2018). When the project started, questions around the meaning of truth were still not at the political forefront in areas such as identity politics or the debates on democratic declines. This changed dramatically in recent years as struggles over truth became a major topic of politics.

The struggle over truth has become a struggle over democracy

Recently, we hear about truth in the context of rising societal polarizations and declining democracies. But these discussions do not seem to be entirely new. Democratic institutions ostensibly enable individuals to shape political actions through engagement and protests and many liberal democracies have prioritized the diversity of citizens’ experiences. It has anticipated negotiations of truth inside a democracy.

The label ’negotiating truth‘ can be, thus, extended beyond the initial project to capture various contemporary policy conflicts, such as those related to birth choices, cancer treatment, climate change, or vaccine hesitancy. While focusing on specific sociopolitical conditions of knowledge production, all these conflicts recall fundamental debates on political rationality and political legitimacy in liberal democratic societies.

We need to interpret how emotions shape democracy

To build knowledge about these policy conflicts, we need to understand how citizens become legitimate actors in these particular political struggles; how these actors use knowledge as relevant claims for their causes; and where they carry out these struggles. These can be understood through analyzing emotions and their association with these actors and their varied forms of knowledge and within and across different decision-making spaces. Emotions inform political dimensions in a society by producing and sustaining values and beliefs through meanings expressed in fear, joy, anger, pride, shame, disgust, rage, and so forth. Emotions both inspire and inhibit everyday human actions, yet in political struggles they are categorized as ‘acceptable/legitimate’ or ‘unacceptable/illegitimate’ elements of concrete standpoints and actions and, thus, affect who has a voice and how that voice impacts political struggles.

Public policies embrace emotions and depend upon them. The research presented on this website analyzes these emotions both conceptually and empirically to understand their embracement and dependence in women’s health, planning issues, the environment, or science governance.