Adriaan van Veldhuizen
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Lessons for future posts

Highlighting the connections, resemblances, and sometimes notable differences between the post-constructions analysed in this volume, the epilogue brings together the strands of the earlier chapters. It shows how some post-concepts are closely related because of their performative quality while others can be linked to each other through a single author. This biographical element offers insight into the interconnectedness of post-concepts and shows how post-concepts were transferred across disciplinary, linguistic and geographical boundaries. Post-concepts are best regarded as products of intellectual interventions and positioning tools used to advocate a new stance vis-à-vis the root concept. By mapping some of these networks or conceptual webs, the epilogue concludes that post-constructions were not just descriptive linguistic tools, but strongly connected signifiers in post-war debates in the European and North-American humanities and social sciences alike. In the second part of the epilogue these observations will be applied to a recently popular post-concept: post-truth. By analysing the history, use and spread of post-truth, the epilogue demonstrates how the conceptual framework laid down in this book helps us to understand and to critically assess not only historical post-concepts but future ones as well.


This volume is not merely a collection of essays on post-concepts. It is an attempt to understand – from a comparative, historical point of view – what post-concepts are, where they came from and what they do. This attempt stems from the observation that during the last century post-concepts have become common throughout the social sciences and the humanities. As the last two chapters, especially, demonstrate, there are no signs of this tendency abating. Many more post-concepts certainly lie ahead of us; we are not post-post. Therefore, by examining the peculiarities of several historical post-concepts, this volume aims to offer insights for students of more recent post-concepts as well.

This extended epilogue brings the threads of this volume together by summarizing some of the most important insights that emerge from the eleven preceding chapters.1 It frames these key insights with help of the methodological framework laid down in the introduction. It also argues that the principles used in this volume not only help us understand historical post-concepts, but also prove valuable in assessing contemporary post-concepts, and perhaps even future ones. Therefore, the second part of this epilogue focuses on a post-concept that is central to contemporary public life and debate, but has not yet been discussed in much detail in this volume: post-truth.

Studying post-concepts: A historical phenomenon

Before turning to the five methodological principles detailed in the introduction – transfer, interconnectedness, performativity, positioning, and conceptual webs – I should highlight that this volume is an exercise in intellectual history, not philosophical analysis. The chapters in this book do not assume that post-terms are either conceptually stable or in need of further definitional clarity. Instead, the chapters trace these terms through time, attentive to their changing and sometimes even contradictory meanings. Compared to other publications on the use of post-concepts, this historicizing approach is a distinctive feature of the chapters collected in this volume.2 So, it might be useful to first present some results of this historicizing view.

Roger Backhouse observes that inventing post-concepts is a tradition typical for the social sciences and the humanities. In the natural sciences and economics, the use of such concepts is less common. And when post-concepts do occur in these disciplines, they are used differently than in the human sciences. Deployed as descriptive labels, they are generally applied in historiographical contexts, as ways of periodizing the histories of those disciplines themselves. However, as Backhouse’s analysis of one of these rare economic post-concepts – post-Keynesian – nicely shows, there are exceptions to this rule. Although post-Keynesian was initially charged with ‘a purely temporal meaning’, it subtly evolved into a term with more complex and layered connotations.

Intellectual history therefore appears to be an excellent heuristic tool to get a grip on the multiplicity of meanings and the misunderstandings that spring from it. It not only allows historians to trace gradual changes in meaning, but also, as illustrated by Howard Brick’s discussion of postcapitalism, enables them to show how a concept can die out and pop up again years later. How exactly conceptual histories are written is perhaps of secondary importance. In fact, this volume illustrates that conceptual histories can take different forms. While some chapters adopt a traditional chronological framework, Stéphanie Genz presents her history of postfeminism as a genealogy. Yolande Jansen, Jasmijn Leeuwenkamp and Leire Urricelqui do the same in their chapter on posthumanism. Other chapters even bring in quantitative elements, or show how post-concepts developed in two or more contexts at the same time. Which of these approaches is most helpful for the task at hand obviously differs from concept to concept. Importantly, however, all of these methods make abundantly clear that the meaning of the post-prefix is never fixed over time. Post-concepts should therefore be considered as dynamic phenomena, as even the seemingly static or descriptive ones can experience significant changes of meaning through the years.

Apart from diachronic differences in meaning, there are often synchronic differences as well. In such cases, a multiplicity of meanings can be discerned at one and the same moment in time. K. Healan Gaston shows such differences in the interpretation of the concept post-secular by discussing two of its founding fathers: a Catholic and a Protestant. The confusion produced by such a proliferation of meanings, is perhaps shown most strikingly by Genz, whose chapter on postfeminism distinguishes two mutually exclusive ideas associated with one and the same concept. But synchronic uses of a post-concept are not always incompatible: the debate on posthumanism, ‘transhumanism’ and ‘critical posthumanism’ emerged at the same time and in dialogue with each other.

Most of these synchronic differences seem to spring from the elusive character of the post-prefix. In her famous 1992 piece ‘Notes on the “Post-Colonial”’, Ella Shohat distinguished between post-concepts that denote a movement beyond a certain way of thinking and post-concepts that refer to a passage into a new period.3 A comparable attempt to bring clarity in the meaning of the ‘post’ can be found in the question posed by Kwame Anthony Appiah in ‘Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?’. Over the years, Appiah’s focus on the dual capacity of post-concepts has inspired many similar questions, which were reflected in titles of articles and books: ‘Is the Post- in Postcolonial the Post- in Post-Soviet?’, ‘Is the “Post” in “Post-Totalitarian” the “Post” in “Postcolonial”?’, ‘Is the “Post” in “Postsecular” the “Post” in “Postcolonial”?’.4 Collectively answering these questions ‘no’, these authors have offered a deluge of meanings of posts. Perhaps everyone writing about these concepts, whether in comparison or in themselves, should consider Genz’s dictum: ‘For me, it is important not to fall into a critical trap that takes for granted the meanings of “post” and “feminism” and instead allow for contradictory and evolving notions of (post)feminism that may co-exist at the same moment.’5

Transfer of post-concepts

This brings me to our first methodological principle presented in the introduction: the transfer of post-concepts. Post-concepts are constantly transferred across disciplinary, linguistic and geographical boundaries, often acquiring new meanings in each new setting. Postmodernism offers an excellent example of this conceptual wanderlust: not only Hans Bertens, who devotes a full chapter to postmodernism, but virtually all other authors in this volume touch upon the concept. Postmodernism was not travelling alone: we see that post-structuralism went transatlantic from France to the US, while post-ideology oscillated between France, Germany and the US. The latter concept even found its genesis in an international organization – the Congress for Cultural Freedom – that introduced the concept not only in different countries, but also in a plethora of academic, political and cultural circles. Postfeminism is observed moving from national contexts to a transnational context, and post-Christian transferred from critics of religion to Christian authors. Posthumanism moved from cultural critique to philosophical and futuristic discourses. Sooner or later, most post-concepts start to move, so that research on post-concepts inevitably tends to become interdisciplinary.

Interconnectedness of post-concepts

As mentioned, many authors have asked whether the ‘post’ in ‘post-X’ is the same as the ‘post’ in ‘post-Y’. This kind of question is relevant, as the chance of stumbling upon one post-concept while studying another are high. It seems that post-concepts have a magnetic appeal to each other. Many authors in this volume find examples of this interconnectedness of post-concepts. Stéphanie Genz shows that the debate on the concept of postfeminism is closely related to discussions of postcolonialism. For his part, Andrew Sartori argues that those who study postcolonialism cannot do so without also looking at post-structuralism. Edward Baring, writing on post-structuralism, connects his object of study to postmodernism. Indeed, postmodernism seems to be connected to virtually every other post-concept. Because of the mutual attraction of post-concepts, the chapters in this volume touch upon many more post-concepts than the table of contents seems to suggest. Post-Marxist, post-bourgeois, post-political, post-industrial and post-imperial all appear in various chapters, thereby illustrating that post-terms themselves form a kind of conceptual web – on which I will elaborate below.

There is at least one striking reason for post-concepts to be so closely connected: the fact that some of them were proposed or popularized by the same authors. Already in the early 1950s, Charles Olson, in his analysis of ‘the post-modern, post-humanist, post-historic era’, showed how easily post-concepts can relate to each other.6 Likewise, in 1957, Irving Howe described Wallace Stevens as ‘a forerunner of post-crisis, post-ideological man’,7 while a reviewer of Howe’s Politics and the Novel coined the term ‘post-political man’.8 In the years that followed, Howe discussed ‘post-Resistance France’ and wrote about ‘“postmodern” fiction’.9 Howe seems to have introduced several post-concepts and directly or indirectly connected them in his writings. This observation ties in with examples from the chapters of this volume, wherein authors such as Will Herberg, Hans Hoekendijk, Fredric Jameson, Robert Bellah, Ihab Hassan and Daniel Bell each employed multiple post-concepts. The post-prefix was a linguistic tool some authors used more often than others, in part as a matter of literary style and aesthetics.

Performativity of post-concepts

A discussion on literary aesthetics, however, might distract us from the fact that the post-prefix is more than a stylistic phenomenon. It is also much more than a synonym for ‘after’, referring simply to historical sequences.10 The ‘post’ has consequences in the real world; it does something. This brings me to the third methodological principle: performativity.

A clear-cut example of this performative use can be found in Suki Ali’s book Mixed-Race, Post-Race. She mentions that her use of the term post-race ‘emphasises deconstructive approaches to identities, and draws on theories of performativity, passing and new ethnicities’.11 By choosing this terminology Ali ‘challenges the tenacity of “singularity” within the hegemonic “race” rhetoric, binaried ways of thinking and limits to language which deny possibilities for mixed identifications’.12 The performative power of the term post-race, one could say, facilitates a new reality.

In Chapter 3 of this volume, I argue that the authors discussing the post-ideological era used performative or creative language too. They cooperated in shaping new intellectual landscapes. Post-concepts do not only reflect a juxtaposition of consecutive historical epochs, but also tend to create those epochs. Especially when used as tools for periodization, many post-concepts share qualities with other ‘colligatory concepts’, such as ‘Middle Ages’ and ‘Renaissance’.13 In the use of such concepts, one particular characteristic of an era is taken to stand for that era as a whole. In a metaphorical manner, one is invited to see everything that happened in the sixteenth century in the light of the rebirth that allegedly took place during the ‘renaissance’. This kind of colligatory language is not confined to historians constructing eras; because of their ability to shape perceptions, post-terms are used as political or even polemical tools as well. The ‘post’ is easily applicable to politics, in so far as it can be used by contemporaries to express and create a desired situation: ‘We are working together for a post-racial era’, or, on the contrary, ‘I don’t want to live in a post-literary society!’.

The ‘post’ as positioning concept

Because of their political and normative impact, the performative aspect of post-concepts is closely related to the fourth methodological principle of this volume: their ability to serve as positioning concepts.14 As K. Healan Gaston points out, according to some authors, modern society not only ‘was becoming’ post-secular, but also ‘should become’ post-secular.15 The importance of this ‘should’ is discussed in various forms in this volume. Andrew Sartori describes postcolonial as a ‘political periodizer’ and Roger Backhouse writes that ‘the term post-Keynesian had political implications’.16 Stéphanie Genz underscores that feminism itself is a ‘social and political phenomenon’; she therefore draws attention to the political aspects of postfeminism.17 In Chapter 3, I write that although post-ideology pretended to describe the depoliticization of society, it became a political ideology in itself.18

When people use post-concepts to distance themselves from other intellectual positions, the ‘post’ can, as a subcategory in positioning, also gain a polemical or pejorative meaning. Herman Paul observes that ‘[i]n the 1950s and early 1960s, “post-Christian age” would come to serve primarily as a Kampfbegriff between two specific groups of Christian intellectuals’.19 Because of this polemical undertone, people are often hesitant to call themselves ‘post-X’. Edward Baring also notices this: ‘Intellectuals are often reluctant to let their ideas be reduced to slogans, or be seen as just one of a group. And certainly, if we take post-structuralism to be a school with a rigid set of doctrines that have to be accepted without question, it is clear that there is no such thing.’20 Ultimately, in a considerable amount of cases, post-concepts are labels given by one group or person to another. And this other is often not a friend. This leads to another reason for emphasizing that post-concepts should never be taken for granted as situational descriptions, but rather should be carefully considered as performative positioning tools with a political or even polemical stance vis-à-vis other concepts or positions.

The conceptual webs of post-concepts

This brings me to the fifth and final methodological principle. Obviously post-concepts are portmanteaux and this volume focuses on the first half of each of them: post. But this is not the only part that matters. As each post-concept positions itself vis-à-vis a root concept, understanding the prefix requires understanding the root concept, too.21 Linguistically, this situation hints at a somewhat paradoxical relation between the ‘post’ and its root concept: although the present is dissociated from the past, it is still defined by the past. Although this negative self-definition of post-concepts seems to underscore the primacy of the root concept, the situation is actually more complex. The understanding of the post-concept depends not only on knowledge of the root concept but also on comprehension of wider conceptual webs and networks within which they function.

For this reason, this volume has attempted to approach post-concepts as comprehensively as possible. Writing about post-structuralism, for example, Edward Baring not only demonstrates the importance of the root concept but also shows how both structuralism and post-structuralism were embedded within wider discourses. Baring is not alone in this attention to discursive context: all authors in this volume emphasize that it is only through these surrounding conceptual networks that we can grasp the position of a post-concept. Because of the kaleidoscopic nature of tradition, for instance, Stephen Turner places the adjective post-traditional in a dialogue with neighbouring concepts such as modernism and liberalism. In a different vein, Herman Paul observes that theorists of the post-Christian might have adopted different stances on the post-Christian age but nonetheless relied, in varying degrees, on the same historicist legacy.

In conclusion, we could argue that, taken together, the various post-concepts form a Wittgensteinian family. All members share a part of their name and certain capacities, but rarely all of them. Interestingly, one particular member of the post-family has good relations with a remarkable number of its relatives: post-war. Although some post-concepts made their first appearances in the interwar-period or even earlier, most of them flourished in the post-war period and many had a close relation to the Cold War. Altogether, this age of posts suggests that post-concepts, as a family, are themselves a cultural sign of the post-war years.

The ‘age of posts’ has been observed before, albeit in a rather negative manner. In 1992 philosopher Ulrich Beck called the prefix post ‘the key word of our time’, stressing that ‘[i]t hints at a “beyond” it cannot name, and in the substantive elements that it names and negates it remains tied to the familiar’.22 In the same year, and even less complimentary, he described the prefix as a sign of ‘helplessness’ in social theory, comparing it to ‘a blind man’s cane’.23 Beck’s normative approach of the post-family as a negative marker of its own time is significant, but at the same time conceals other capacities of the prefix. All things considered, many of the concepts discussed in this volume anticipated the possibility of a new era, a fresh start, offering glimpses of a post-capitalist, post-ideological or post-political society. Other concepts indeed expressed a more reluctant attitude, fearing a post-Christian age or, later, lamenting a postfeminist future. But even these posts were not mere expressions of intellectual impotence; they referred to transitions that could be stopped or accelerated. So, following Beck, I would argue that post-concepts should indeed be studied together and contextually. As a family, this collection expresses more than the sum of its parts. However, contrary to Beck, the whole family should not be collectively dismissed as an unimaginative cluster of signs of helplessness. Post-concepts are just as often markers for the use of (political) agency, and accompany successful attempts to reshape society.

Eating a post-truth pudding

To what extent do the insights summarized so far apply to contemporary post-concepts? In the remainder of this epilogue, I would like to argue that the methodological principles put forward in this volume not only help us understand historical post-concepts but also help us to make sense of new ones. We can illustrate this capacity by applying our methodological framework to ‘post-truth’, the Oxford English Dictionary’s Word of the Year 2016.

The term post-truth can be traced back to 1992 and the days of the ‘culture war’. Back then, it was considered a neologism for ‘lying’. In an article in The Nation, Steve Tesich stated that since the Vietnam War, American political discourse had become clouded by a growing number of lies. After discussing the lies in Richard Nixon’s presidency and Ronald Reagan’s lack of truthfulness during the Iran/Contra scandal, Tesich concluded that the American people voluntarily had chosen to live a post-truth life.24 After this article, however, the concept disappeared from the radar. Twelve years later, in 2004, the American journalist Ralph Keyes returned to the concept. In his The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life, Keyes pointed at the nonchalance with which people – politicians in particular – tend to tell lies.25 Although the book stirred some attention, the concept ‘post-truth’ did not stick.

When it re-emerged in the 2010s, it did so with different connotations. In 2012, journalists Ari Rabin-Havt and David Brock published The Fox Effect, a book on American news channel Fox News. It discussed ‘the era of post-truth politics’, in which ‘[t]he facts no longer matter, only what is politically expedient, sensationalistic, and designed to confirm the pre-existing opinions of a large audience’.26 In the authors’ interpretation, post-truth came close to what Harry Frankfurt in 1986 had called ‘bullshitting’.27 It was no longer synonymous with lying, but instead expressed an indifference towards truth as such.

As this short survey suggests, even though the concept post-truth only has a short history, we already see diachronic differences of meaning. What about meanings that can be distinguished synchronically? One does not have to search very long to find an overabundance of interpretations on social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. In academic publications the situation is not much clearer. Although the concept has appeared in many articles over the last few years, authors work with different definitions of the concept. Moreover, those who reflect on their use of post-truth do not always succeed in bringing much clarity. In an article on ‘The post of post-truth in post-media’, for instance, Polish author Adrian Mróz discerned three interpretations of the concept:

  1. The use of appeals to emotions and beliefs as constitutive varieties of circumstances that overshadow traditional notions of ‘objective facts’.
  2. The affective bodily circumstances, social reality, and idea network under which a sentence is subjectively felt as true or rejected as false.
  3. A statement of circumstances (1)–(2), at times identifies with the meaning of the statement.28

In his article ‘Truth, Lies and Tweets: A Consensus Theory of Post-Truth’, philosopher Vittorio Bufacchi stated that the ‘prefix in Post-Truth has a meaning more like “belonging to a time in which the specified concept has become unimportant or irrelevant”’, adding that ‘[s]imilarly, the prefix “post” in Post-Truth is not a chronological reference to something that occurs “after” truth, instead it is a statement about the fact that truth is no longer essential, that truth has become obsolete and that truth has been superseded by a new reality’.29 Bufacchi noted that his definition is broader than, though not contradictory to, the more famous one in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED): ‘Post-Truth [is] “an adjective defined as relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.’30

Meanwhile, the interpretations by Mróz, Bufacchi and the OED all differ from the concept of ‘bullshit’ as introduced by Frankfurt and adopted by several authors who wrote about post-truth. In books and articles by the latter we find elaborations on the differences between ‘pre-post-truth bullshit’ and ‘post-truth bullshit’ and the difference between ‘lying, misleading, bullshit, and the propagation of ignorance’.31 After studying these synchronic and diachronic differences in meaning, we should conclude that within just a few years, many books have been published on this one particular post-concept, without reaching any consensus about its meaning.

Applying the first methodological principle guiding us in this volume – the concept of transfer – we notice that post-truth’s itinerary included many different discourses over the last few years. It is striking to see how a concept that first appeared in journalism became a regular presence in academia, politics and policy.32 Post-truth’s transfer from journalism to other domains is clearly visible in books such as Post-Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back by Matthew d’Ancona. This author started from what he saw in the newspapers and then moved to an analysis of society, concluding with a reflection on the epistemological position needed to fight the loss of truth he experienced on his way.33

This route is just one example of how post-truth could penetrate almost any discipline, country or discourse. Scrolling through academic books and journals, we find a study on post-truth and pedagogy, as well as an International Affairs issue on ‘International Relations in the Age of “Post-Truth” Politics’. Historian David Černín blogged on ‘History in the Age of Post-Truth’, whilst Robert Johnson did the same for post-truth and theology. Murray Forsyth gave a cautionary account on the influences of post-truth on medicine, and Angela Condello and ‎Tiziana Andina published Post-Truth, Philosophy and Law.34 Looking across geographical boundaries, a similar view emerges: post-truth was named ‘Word of the Year’ in the UK, the US and in a slightly different form (postfaktisch) in Germany, while Brazil was, according to communications scholar Ana Cristina Suzina, ‘hijacked by post-truth’.35

Let us now turn to the second methodological principle of this volume: the interconnectedness of post-concepts. Perhaps because post-truth is widely discussed by post-loving philosophers and social theorists, it easily finds connections to other post-concepts. Over the last four years, it was combined with an incredible amount of other post-concepts – post-justice, post-fact, post-factual, post-shame, post-sexual and post-trust are only a few of them.36 Amid the frequent occurrence of these relatively new post-concepts, moreover, there is one post that is brought up in almost every publication on post-truth: postmodernism. Already in The Post-Truth Era, Ralph Keyes wrote that ‘to devout postmodernists, there is no such thing as literal truth, only what society labels as truth’.37

In general terms, we could argue that the discourse of postmodernism implied an encouragement to rethink the monolithic truth-claims constructed by previous generations of philosophers. Some voices perceived postmodernism as a self-applied safeguard against totalizing ideologies, whereas others saw postmodernism propagating an all-consuming relativism. The latter interpretation, emphasizing the relativistic tendencies of postmodernism, explains many of the connections to post-truth. Jaclyn Partyka has written that ‘[i]n many ways, our current climate of fake news and alternative facts is an aftershock of postmodernism’.38 In an ultimate attempt to discredit postmodernism and to present it as the forerunner of post-truth, Michiko Kakutani notes that ‘[e]ven Mike Cernovich, the notorious alt-right troll and conspiracy theorist, invoked postmodernism in a 2016 interview with The New Yorker. “Look, I read postmodernist theory in college. If everything is a narrative, then we need alternatives to the dominant narrative,” he said’.39 Conversely, the philosopher Carlos G. Prado warned that ‘[a]ttempts to connect post-truth to postmodernism, even when critical, effectively lend post-truth something of a philosophical history that is, in fact, bogus’.40

Many other authors address this connection more tentatively. It is telling that a number of them reflect on this interconnectedness mainly through questions. Beginning his book on post-truth politics, Joshua Forstenzer wrote: ‘We may thus ask: Has the intellectual movement that is postmodernism played a role in the rise of post-truth politics?’41 Truman Chen titled a blog post ‘Is Postmodernism to Blame for Post-Truth?’42 and Lee McIntyre’s chapter devoted to this connection was named ‘Did Postmodernism Lead to Post-truth?’.43 Even the title of Tina Besley, Michael A. Peters and Sharon Rider’s afterword for their book on post-truth ended with a question mark: ‘Afterword: Viral Modernity: From Postmodernism to Post-Truth?’44 Although the exact answers given by these authors differ, they feel the need to suggest a strong connection between the two concepts.

In the particular case of post-truth, our third methodological principle, which is performativity, might be best discussed together with the fourth methodological principle, positioning. To start with the latter: for obvious reasons, people seldom identify themselves as ‘post-truth’. Instead, it is most often a label given pejoratively to others. The first publications on post-truth used the term as a derogatory remark. Here, we should realize that this kind of remark is never strictly descriptive; it defines another’s position as well. So, although it might sound overly academic to call these insults ‘performative positioning tools’, that is precisely what they are.

However, post-truth has a special quality here, since it not only discredits specific individuals but also seeks to characterize our current age. As both Herman Paul and I note in our chapters, the use of a post-prefix – in the sense of implying the closure of an age, era or epoch – may draw on historicist epochal thinking. Post-prefixes both create and characterize the eras in question. In the case of post-truth, this epoch-shaping capacity casts a negative light on our current age. Every book or article performatively presenting our era as the ‘age of post-truth’ contributes to this image of our own age as lacking truthfulness. For this reason, Stuart Sim notes in his Post-Truth, Scepticism & Power that ‘[p]ost-truth has to be recognized as an ideological movement … one that is out to dominate the public realm by undermining the accepted character of political discourse’.45 Throughout his book, Sim shows that post-truth discourse is related not only to epistemology, postmodernism and politics, but also to a broad network of conspiracy theories.

This brings me to the last methodological principle: the conceptual webs in which post-truth operates. If there is one conclusion to be drawn from the case of post-truth, it is that the term’s meanings not only changed over the years but also depended strongly on their contexts. What started as a journalist’s remark eventually turned into a theme for serious reflection by critical theorists and philosophers such as Carlos Prado and Steve Fuller. The latter even used the ‘post-truth standpoint’ as a heuristic tool in philosophical debates.46 With this movement from journalism to academics and politics, the conceptual webs surrounding post-truth changed as well. Whereas ‘post-truth’ initially referred to specific individuals – American presidents in particular – it later came to denote conspiracy theorists, groups in society and the current age at large. And while it was first applied to everyday politics, it increasingly became a term of art in debates on modern political culture on the one hand, and epistemology on the other.

As mentioned, postmodernism figures most prominently in the conceptual network surrounding post-truth. This leads to connections with other conceptual webs. While discussing postmodernism, for instance, one easily dives into debates on modernism, relativism, historicism and pragmatism. Indeed, we find post-truth here too. With this in mind, we must conclude that, just as with the other post-concepts in this volume, post-truth offers points of entry into several central debates in the age of the post. However, there may be small but meaningful differences between post-truth and the older post-concepts. Perhaps post-truth primarily expresses how the post-war longings and warnings for change, as expressed in many earlier post-concepts, resulted in a sense of disillusionment. In other words, this ‘post’ is just as much about losing the past as it is about winning the future.


1 I would like to thank K. Healan Gaston, Herman Paul and Selin Kuşçu for their comments on earlier versions of this epilogue.
2 One could think of linguistic or philosophical publications, but also of a volume like: Krystyna Kujawińska Courtney, Izabella Penier and Sumit Chakrabarti (eds), The Post-Marked World: Theory and Practice in the 21st Century (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013).
3 Ella Shohat, ‘Notes on the “Post-Colonial”’, Social Text, 31/32 (1992), 99–113, 101. Khaled Furani for instance, described the ‘post’ in post-secular as a ‘transcending endeavor’ and a ‘paradigmatic notion’. Jeffrey Nealon even discussed the first ‘post’ in post-postmodernism as ‘a marker of postmodernism’s having mutated … the way that a tropical storm passes a certain threshold and becomes a hurricane’. Khaled Furani, ‘Is There a Postsecular?’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 83:1 (2015), 1–26, 8; Jeffrey T. Nealon, Post-Postmodernism: Or, The Cultural Logic of Just-In-Time Capitalism (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012), pp. ix–x.
4 Kwame Anthony Appiah, ‘Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?’, Critical Inquiry, 17:2 (1991), 336–57; David Chioni Moore, ‘Is the Post- in Postcolonial the Post- in Post-Soviet? Toward a Global Postcolonial Critique’, PMLA, 116:1 (2001), 111–28; Micheal Kilburn, ‘Is the “post” in “post-totalitarian” the “post” in “postcolonial”?’, in Eóin Flannery and Angus Mitchell (eds), Enemies of Empire: New perspectives on imperialism, literature and historiography (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2007), 211–24; Graham Huggan, ‘Is the “Post” in “Postsecular” the “Post” in “Postcolonial”?’, Modern Fiction Studies, 56:4 (2010), 751–68; Robin James, ‘Is the post- in post-identity the post- in post-genre?’, Popular Music, 36:1 (2017), 21–32; Shu-mei Shih, ‘Is the Post in Postsocialism the Post in Posthumanism?’, Social Text, 30:1 (2012), 27–50.
5 See Stéphanie Genz’s chapter in this volume.
6 Charles Olson, ‘The Present is Prologue’, in Donald Allen and Benjamin Friedlander (eds), Collected Prose: Charles Olson (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1997), p. 207, as cited in Mark Greif, The Age of the Crisis of Man: Thought and Fiction in America, 1933–1973 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013), p. 399.
7 Irving Howe, A World More Attractive: A View of Modern Literature and Politics (New York: Horizon Press, 1963), p. 162.
8 Benjamin De Mott, ‘Two Liberals, One Aesthete’, The Hudson Review, 10:3 (1957), 465–71, 471.
9 Irving Howe, ‘Between Fact and Fable’, The New Republic (31 March 1958), 17.
10 Elsewhere in this volume, Howard Brick even states that postcapitalist in many cases is not a temporal signifier at all.
11 Because Ali refers to Butler, for whom performativity is not a voluntaristic act, performativity works in different directions here. Both ‘race’ and ‘post-race’ are performatively produced. Sometimes this seems to be a self-conscious practice while at other moments it appears to be an organic process. Suki Ali, Mixed-Race, Post-Race: Gender, New Ethnicities and Cultural Practices (New York: Routledge, [2003] 2020), p. 9.
12 Ibid., p. 18.
13 On colligatory concepts, see William Henry Walsh, ‘Colligatory Concepts in History’, in Patrick Gardiner (ed.), The Philosophy of History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974) and Christopher Behan McCullagh, ‘Colligation and Classification in History’, History and Theory, 17:3 (1978), 267–84.
14 Penelope Corfield emphasises how post-concepts ‘exemplify a general sense of change, albeit by specifying what has gone rather than what has come. They further endorse, without proving, a vague belief that history proceeds by switching from one discrete stage to another, each with its own special characteristics.’ Penelope J. Corfield, ‘POST-Medievalism/Modernity/Postmodernity?’, Rethinking History, 14:3 (2010), 379–404, 383.
15 See K. Healan Gaston’s chapter in this volume.
16 See Andrew Sartori’s and Roger E. Backhouse’s chapters in this volume.
17 See Stéphanie Genz’s chapter in this volume.
18 See my own chapter in this volume.
19 See Herman Paul’s chapter in this volume.
20 See Edward Baring’s chapter in this volume.
21 On some rare occasions, post-concepts became a root concept themselves. For example, K. Healan Gaston mentions post-post-Christian, and Stéphanie Genz discusses post-postfeminism. Other post-concepts discussed in this volume became root concepts as well, see, for instance, Larry A. Hickman, Pragmatism as Post-Postmodernism: Lessons from John Dewey. (Ashland, OH: Fordham University, 2007); Jennifer M. Lehmann, Deconstructing Durkheim: A Post-Post-Structuralist Critique (London and New York: Routledge, 1993); Paul Jay, ‘The Post-Post Colonial Condition: Globalization and Historical Allegory in Mohsin Hamid’s “Moth Smoke”’, ariel, 36:1–2 (2005), 51–71.
22 Ulrich Beck, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity (London: SAGE, 1992), p. 9.
23 Ulrich Beck, ‘Modern Society as a Risk Society’, in Nico Stehr and Richard V. Ericson (eds), The Culture and Power of Knowledge (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1992), pp. 199–214, p. 199.
24 Steve Tesich, ‘A Government of Lies’, The Nation, 254:1 (1992), 12–14.
25 Fascinatingly Keyes already mentions businessman Donald Trump as an example of post-truth for claiming successes he never had. Ralph Keyes, The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life (New York: St. Martins, 2004), pp. 14–15.
26 David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt, The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine (New York: Anchor, 2012), p. 283.
27 Harry G. Frankfurt, ‘On Bullshit’, Raritan Quarterly Review, 6:2 (1986), 81–100.
28 Adrian Mróz, ‘The Post of Post-Truth in Post-Media: About Socio-Situational Dynamic Information, Kultura i Historia, 32:2 (2017), 23–37, 24.
29 Vittorio Bufacchi, ‘Truth, Lies and Tweets: A Consensus Theory of Post-Truth’, Philosophy & Social Criticism, 47:3 (2021), 347–61, 348.
30 Ibid., 348.
31 Authors explicitly elaborating on the connection between post-truth and bullshit: James Ball, Post-Truth: How Bullshit Conquered the World (London: Biteback Publishing, 2017); Evan Davis, Post-Truth: Why We Have Reached Peak Bullshit and What We Can Do About It (London: Little, Brown, 2017). And for examples of views that put the two concepts on a distance to each other, see Bruce McComiskey, Post-Truth Rhetoric and Composition (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 2017), p. 12; David Block, Post-Truth and Political Discourse (Cham: Palgrave Pivot, 2019), p. 119.
32 A good example of an early article using post-truth in its latest form is written by Jeet Heer. The political element is very clear, since post-truth is a concept especially designed for the description of Trumpian politics: Jeet Heer, ‘Donald Trump Is Not a Liar. He’s Something Worse: A Bullshit Artist’, New Republic (1 December 2015), (accessed 21 February 2020).
33 Matthew d’Ancona, Post Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back (London: Ebury Press, 2017).
34 Michael A. Peters et al. (eds), Post-Truth, Fake News: Viral Modernity & Higher Education (Singapore: Springer, 2018); International Affairs, 94:2 (2018); David Černín, ‘The Role of History in the Age of Post-Truth’ (24 April 2019), (accessed 30 January 2020); Robert Johson, ‘Truth and the Theological Learning Community in a “Post-Truth” Culture’ (2017), (accessed 30 January 2020); Murray G. Forsyth, ‘Post-Truth Era is Destroying Society and Medicine’, British Medical Journal, 367 (2019); Angela Condello and ‎Tiziana Andina (eds), Post-Truth, Philosophy and Law (London: Routledge, 2019).
35 Ana Cristina Suzina, ‘Brazil, Hijacked by Post-Truth’, (22 October 2018), (accessed 30 January 2020).
36 A short survey on Google using the term ‘post-truth and post’ led to these results, spanning thousands of pages already.
37 Keyes, Post-Truth Era, p. 139.
38 Jaclyn Partyka, ‘Fictional Affect and Metaliterate Learning through Genre’, in Thomas P. Mackey and ‎Trudi E. Jacobson (eds), Metaliterate Learning for the Post-Truth World (New York: American Library Association, 2019), p. 182.
39 Michiko Kakutani, The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump (New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2018), p. 52.
40 Carlos G. Prado, America’s Post-Truth Phenomenon: When Feelings and Opinions Trump Facts and Evidence (London: Praeger, 2018), p. 5.
41 Joshua Forstenzer, Something Has Cracked: Post-Truth Politics and Richard Rorty’s Postmodernist Bourgeois Liberalism (Cambridge, MA: Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation Harvard Kennedy School, 2018), p. 4.
42 Truman Chen, ‘Is Postmodernism to Blame for Post-Truth?’, Philosophy Talk (17 February 2017), (accessed 1 February 2020).
43 Lee McIntyre, Post-Truth (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2018), p. 123.
44 Peters et al., Post-Truth, Fake News, p. 217.
45 Stuart Sim, Post-Truth, Scepticism & Power (Cham: Palgrave McMillan, 2019), p. 3.
46 Steve Fuller, ‘The Post-Truth About Philosophy and Rhetoric’, Philosophy & Rhetoric, 50:4 (2017), 473–82; Steve Fuller, ‘The Dialectic of Politics and Science from a Post-Truth Standpoint’, Epistemology & Philosophy of Science, 5:2 (2018), 59–74; Steve Fuller, Post-Truth: Knowledge as a Power Game (London: Anthem Press, 2017).
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An intellectual history of post-concepts


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