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The Rashomon effect is a term related to the notorious unreliability of eye witnesses. It describes a situation in which an event is given contradictory interpretations or descriptions by the individuals involved.
The effect is named after Akira Kurosawa's 1950 film Rashomon, in which a murder is described in four contradictory ways by four witnesses. The term addresses the motives, mechanism and occurrences of the reporting on the circumstance and addresses contested interpretations of events, the existence of disagreements regarding the evidence of events and subjectivity versus objectivity in human perception, memory and reporting.
The Rashomon effect has been defined in a modern academic context as "the naming of an epistemological framework—or ways of thinking, knowing, and remembering—required for understanding complex and ambiguous situations".
The history of the term and its permutations in cinema, literature, legal studies, psychology, sociology and history is the subject of a 2015 multi-author volume edited by Blair Davis (DePaul University), Robert Anderson and Jan Walls (both of Simon Fraser University).
Valerie Alia termed the same effect "The Rashomon Principle" and has used this variant extensively since the late 1970s, first publishing it in an essay on the politics of journalism in 1982. She developed the term in a 1997 essay "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 1988 journal article 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. pp. 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.
- 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.CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link) 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 (eds.). Deadlines and Diversity: Journalism Ethics in a Changing World. Halifax, CAN: Fernwood. ISBN 9781895686548.CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)
- 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.