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Believability: Sexual Violence, Media, and the Politics of Doubt

Sarah Banet-Weiser & Kathryn Claire Higgins (Polity)

Out April 28th 2023 (UK/EU) and 4th July 2023 (USA). 

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About Believability

The #MeToo movement has created more opportunities for women to speak up about sexual assault and harassment. But we are also living in a time when debates about “fake news” and “alternative facts” call into question the very nature of truth. For questions about sexual violence, who do we believe and why? And how do the answers change when the very idea of “truth” is in question?

This troubling paradox is at the heart of this book. The convergence of the #MeToo movement and the crisis of post-truth is used to explore the experiences of women and people of color whose credibility around issues of sexual violence is often in doubt. Offering a feminist re-thinking of “post-truth”, Banet-Weiser and Higgins shift the lens from truth to “believability” to investigate how the gendered and racialized logics of this concept are defined and contested within media culture. Drawing on analysis of a wide variety of media texts and products including film, news articles, social media campaigns, and wearable technologies, the authors propose that an “economy of believability’” is a necessary framework for understanding the context in which public bids for truth about sexual violence are made, negotiated, and authorized. Believability interrogates this economy as one in which powerful white men have historically wielded disproportionate influence – and so, an economy which is deeply structured by gender and race.

Timely and compelling, this book makes a provocative intervention into scholarly and popular debates about the character of believability when women speak up about sexual assault. It will appeal to scholars and students across the social sciences and humanities as well as general readers.

Praise for Believability

"Believability offers the best and most nuanced analysis of the cultural significance of #MeToo I have read [...] the book is not only a crucial con-tribution to feminist thought, but also an important step towards reconceptualising the cultural politics of belief and truth in transformative feminist ways."

Tanya Serisier, Reader in Feminist Theory, Birkbeck University of London. Author of Speaking Out: Feminism, Rape and Narrative Politics.

“In this stunning new book, Banet-Weiser and Higgins demonstrate that if we want to understand how sexual violence operates in the contemporary moment, we need to radically change our analytic frame--from truth to believability.  Providing groundbreaking insights into the so-called crisis of post-truth and #MeToo, this book will undoubtedly completely transform how we understand, approach, and analyze questions of sexual violence and gender justice.”

Catherine Rottenberg, Professor of Feminist Thought and Culture, University of Nottingam. Author of The Rise of Neoliberal Feminism.

“Banet-Weiser and Higgins shift our collective focus from the over-valorization of truth, to the central role that believability plays in the search for justice for sexual assault survivors. Believability provides readers with a new vantage point on misinformation and truth, making clear through well-sourced research that the truth matters far less than whether people believe it.” 

Moya Bailey, Associate Professor, Department of Communication Studies, Northwestern University. Author of Misogynoir Transformed.

“What happens when a social media phenomenon rooted in believability erupts in a post-truth environment? Sarah Banet-Weiser and Kathryn Claire Higgins answer that the "economies of believability" begin to shift, offering a new perspective on #MeToo as an ongoing struggle over how to generate believability.”

Leigh Gilmore, Professor Emerita of English, Ohio State University. Author of Tainted Witness: Why We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives and The #MeToo Effect: What Happens When We Believe Women.

Reviews & Press for Believability


Book Review by Catherine Rottenberg

The Sociological Review

Book Review by Tanya Serisier

European Journal of Cultural Studies (EJCS)

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Book of the Day: Believability

New Books Network Podcast (4th July 2023)

Critical Theory Channel

¿Por qué no se cree a las mujeres?

CulturPlaza (19th June 2023) 

Interview in Spanish

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#MeToo and the Media

LSE Festival (17th June 2023)

With Winnie Li, Rowena Chiu, Lucia Osborne-Crowley, and Sarah Banet-Weiser

Credibilidad (Review)

La Vanguardia (15th June 2023)

Review in Spanish 

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