White saviour industrial complex

The issues with Western ‘explainer journalism’

Conventional journalists can quote outside experts and hedge their bets a little by riding on the coattails of these experts’ authority and blaming them if their theories are wrong. Explainer journalism rests instead on the authority of the person doing the explaining.

The problem with this is twofold. First, the explainers are sometimes going to get things wrong. This is especially likely in international politics, where the explaining journalist is supposed to have expertise in far more countries and far more issues than any human being can possibly know much about. Second, the explainer is going to have difficulty in admitting that he or she has gotten something wrong. If your authority and livelihood as a writer rests on your supposed ability to explain, you are not going to want to admit that you got things seriously wrong, even if you did. [Monkey Cage/The Washington Post]

Henry Farrel brings up two interesting points. Being able to know and explain everything all over the world is impossible, but that’s what Western academics, thinkers and philosophers have been doing for centuries. Claiming that Western knowledge production is able to produce universal knowledge is an inherited blindspot. It’s a privilege in a world that the West has been trying to shape and model in its image. With capitalism, neo-liberalism and democracy, whatever that may mean in today’s world, being used as blunt hammers to subdue the rest of the world.

In that sense the second problem comes to mind whenever the colonial and neo-colonial adventures of the West in the rest of the world are brought up. Writing, as Max fisher did in Vox, he failed to see the cultural imperialism he was conducting with his article. By reducing any and all cultural events and aesthetic developments the world over to something that was done first in the West removes the local as the agent of change. That in the article itself it was explained as accidental did not deter Fisher from producing the piece nonetheless and drawing superficial parallels. He couldn’t admit that his urge to push the gesture into this pre-determined America-centered gesture produced an article that failed to actually understand what was happening and being shown.

Farrels Washington Post article is interesting but could’ve delved more deeply into the white male privilege aspect of asserting a claim to expertise. The authorative stance on display in both his article and that of Fisher is derived from that aspect. And that’s not a universal urge.

Photo credit: pasuay @ incendo via Photopin cc

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