The Rashomon effect is a term used to describe the circumstance when the same event is given contradictory interpretations by different individuals involved. The term derives from Akira Kurosawa's 1950 film Rashomon, in which a murder involving four individuals (suspects, witnesses, and surviving victims) is described in four mutually contradictory ways. More broadly, the term addresses the motivations, mechanism, and occurrences of the reporting on the circumstance, and so addresses contested interpretations of events, the existence of disagreements regarding the evidence of events, and the subjects of subjectivity versus objectivity in human perception, memory, and reporting.
Origin and definition
The title term is named for Akira Kurosawa's 1950 film Rashomon, in which a murder involving four individuals (suspects, witnesses, and surviving victims) is described in four mutually contradictory ways.
The Rashomon effect has been defined in a modern academic context (from Robert Anderson, in 2016), as "the naming of an epistemological framework—or ways of thinking, knowing, and remembering—required for understanding complex and ambiguous situations." The term for the effect is derived from the eponymous film, Kurosawa's Rashomon, in which a number of factors are at play, simultaneously, leading the same academic to comment:
[T]he Rashomon effect is not only about differences in perspective. It occurs particularly where such differences arise in combination with the absence of evidence to elevate or disqualify any version of the truth, plus the social pressure for closure on the question.
There are varying claims made regarding the coining of this term, but a reliable statement of the earliest use of the term "Rashomon effect" comes from 2015 testimony of Robert Anderson, Professor of Communication at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, who states that,
My own understanding of its origins arises much earlier, upon hearing my respected teacher, Nur Yalman [as of 2016, an emeritus professor at Harvard University], say to us in a class in early 1966 at [T]he University of Chicago. that 'anthropology's main problem is to deal with the Rashomon effect'. Unlike some graduate students in that room in Chicago, I had seen the film [Rashomon] in 1961 or 1962, so this remark crystalized something… in my memory… I suspect the Rashomon effect has shown up in many historic intellectual undertakings that deal with the contested interpretation of events or with disagreements and evidence for them, or with subjectivity/objectivity, memory and perception. A pertinent example is the long poem called The Ring and the Book by Robert Browning… published in 1868-9…
The history of the term and its multiple permutations in cinema, literature, legal studies, psychology, sociology, history is the subject of a 2015 multi-author volume edited by Blair Davis (DePaul University), Anderson, and Jan Walls (Simon Fraser University).
Valerie Alia termed the same effect "The Rashomon Principle," and used this variant of the term extensively since the late 1970s, first publishing it in an essay on the politics of journalism in 1982. She further developed and used the term in a 1997 essay entitled "The Rashomon Principle: The Journalist as Ethnographer", and in her 2004 book, Media Ethics and Social Change.
A useful demonstration of this principle in scientific understanding can be found in Karl G. Heider's work on ethnography. Heider used the term to refer to the effect of the subjectivity of perception on recollection, by which observers of an event are able to produce substantially different but equally plausible accounts of it.
- Davenport, Christian (2010). "Rashomon Effect, Observation, and Data Generation". Media Bias, Perspective, and State Repression: The Black Panther Party. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 52-73, esp. 55. ISBN 9780521759700.
- Anderson, Robert (2016). "The Rashomon Effect and Communication". Canadian Journal of Communication. Vancouver Canada (41(2)): 250–265. ISSN 0705-3657.
- Anderson, Robert (2015). "What is the Rashomon Effect? [Ch. 7]". In Davis, Blair; Anderson, Robert; and Walls, Jan. Rashomon Effects: Kurosawa, Rashomon and Their Legacies. Routledge Advances in Film Studies. Abingdon, ENG: Routledge. pp. 66–85, esp. 68f. ISBN 1138827096. Retrieved 28 September 2016. The citation is taken from the hardback edition, ISBN as appearing. The link is to the e-book edition, ISBN 131757463X. For easier access to this chapter and information, see the corresponding hardback edition at Amazon.com.
- Davis, Blair; Anderson, Robert; and Walls, Jan, eds. (2015). Rashomon Effects: Kurosawa, Rashomon and Their Legacies. Routledge Advances in Film Studies. Abingdon, ENG: Routledge. ISBN 1138827096. Retrieved 28 September 2016. See also the citation of individual chapters.
- Alia, Valerie (1997). "The Rashomon Principle: The Journalist as Ethnographer". In Alia, Valerie; Brennan, Brian; and Hoffmaster, Barry. Deadlines and Diversity: Journalism Ethics in a Changing World. Halifax, CAN: Fernwood. ISBN 9781895686548.
- Alia, Valerie (2004). Media Ethics and Social Change. Edinburgh, UK and New York City: Edinburgh University Press/Routledge US; Routledge US. ISBN 9780415971997.
- Heider, Karl G. (March 1988). "The Rashomon Effect: When Ethnographers Disagree" (PDF). American Anthropologist. 90 (1): 73–81. doi:10.1525/aa.1988.90.1.02a00050.