The study of rumor is used to examine claims about “live organ harvesting” told by a new religious movement, Falun Gong. The veracity of the rumor is debated and its truth status remains unsettled. I argue that an unsettled rumor told by a marginal community is a problem for the sociology of rumor. This problem is partly resolved by examining how the rumor fits within the culture of its carrier group. An analysis based on ethnographic materials and publications shows how mythic significations evoked by the rumor within Falun Gong influenced how participants communicated to non-Falun Gong audiences. Advocates of the rumor attempted to align its details with deeply held meanings shared within the Falun Gong community. Because non-Falun Gong audiences did not share these mythic associations, such rhetoric made the rumor less plausible to general audiences. How rumor details were represented contributed to public skepticism but has no bearing on the truth status of the underlying rumor. This conclusion has implications not only for evaluating the present rumor but also for the wider study of rumor: evaluating an unsettled rumor told by a marginal group requires a culturally sensitive analysis in order to account for the potentially distorting effects of narration.
American Journal of Cultural Sociology – Springer Journals
Published: Nov 30, 2016