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Dangerous Machinery: "Conspiracy Theorist" as a Transpersonal Strategy of Exclusion

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Abstract

In a culture of fear, we should expect the rise of new mechanisms of social control to deflect distrust, anxiety, and threat. Relying on the analysis of popular and academic texts, we examine one such mechanism, the label conspiracy theory, and explore how it works in public discourse to "go meta" by sidestepping the examination of evidence. Our findings suggest that authors use the conspiracy theorist label as (1) a routinized strategy of exclusion; (2) a reframing mechanism that deflects questions or concerns about power, corruption, and motive; and (3) an attack upon the personhood and competence of the questioner. This label becomes dangerous machinery at the transpersonal levels of media and academic discourse, symbolically stripping the claimant of the status of reasonable interlocutor—often to avoid the need to account for one's own action or speech. We argue that this and similar mechanisms simultaneously control the flow of information and symbolically demobilize certain voices and issues in public discourse.

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... In line with the defense of the conspiracy-theories-asa-social-stigma hypothesis, some scholars explicitly state that providing a conspiracy theory as an explanation is stigmatized in our society (Harambam & Aupers, 2015;Husting & Orr, 2007). More specifically, Husting and Orr (2007) claim that in the public sphere, the term "conspiracy theory" trivializes people's explanations, regardless of the quality of these explanations. ...
... In line with the defense of the conspiracy-theories-asa-social-stigma hypothesis, some scholars explicitly state that providing a conspiracy theory as an explanation is stigmatized in our society (Harambam & Aupers, 2015;Husting & Orr, 2007). More specifically, Husting and Orr (2007) claim that in the public sphere, the term "conspiracy theory" trivializes people's explanations, regardless of the quality of these explanations. In this sense, conspiracy theories could be seen as a "sign of narrative disqualification" (Bratich, 2008, p. 4). ...
... Thus, more than the discredit associated with conspiracy theories, the traits of people who endorse them may also be discredited. Some scholars suggest indeed that being called "conspiracy theorist" conveys a negative image (Harambam & Aupers, 2015;Husting & Orr, 2007). This image is even found in the academic literature. ...
Preprint
Can conspiracy theories be a source of social stigma? If it is true, it would follow that people may expect to be socially excluded when they express endorsement of conspiracy theories. This effect should be partially explained by the knowledge of the negative perceptions associated with conspiracy theories. In Study 1, inducing French internet users to write a text endorsing (vs. criticizing) conspiracy theories about the Charlie Hebdo shooting, led them to anticipate fear of social exclusion. This effect was mediated by anticipated negative evaluation of the self. In Study 2, inducing French internet users to imagine defending (vs. criticizing) conspiracy theories about the Charlie Hebdo shooting in front of an audience, led them to anticipate fear of social exclusion. The effect was again mediated by anticipated negative evaluation of the self. To conclude, our findings demonstrate that conspiracy theories can be viewed as a source of social stigma.Keywords:
... In line with the defense of the conspiracy-theories-asa-social-stigma hypothesis, some scholars explicitly state that providing a conspiracy theory as an explanation is stigmatized in our society (Harambam & Aupers, 2015;Husting & Orr, 2007). More specifically, Husting and Orr (2007) claim that in the public sphere, the term "conspiracy theory" trivializes people's explanations, regardless of the quality of these explanations. ...
... In line with the defense of the conspiracy-theories-asa-social-stigma hypothesis, some scholars explicitly state that providing a conspiracy theory as an explanation is stigmatized in our society (Harambam & Aupers, 2015;Husting & Orr, 2007). More specifically, Husting and Orr (2007) claim that in the public sphere, the term "conspiracy theory" trivializes people's explanations, regardless of the quality of these explanations. In this sense, conspiracy theories could be seen as a "sign of narrative disqualification" (Bratich, 2008, p. 4). ...
... Thus, more than the discredit associated with conspiracy theories, the traits of people who endorse them may also be discredited. Some scholars suggest indeed that being called "conspiracy theorist" conveys a negative image (Harambam & Aupers, 2015;Husting & Orr, 2007). This image is even found in the academic literature. ...
Article
Can conspiracy theories be a source of social stigma? If it is true, it would follow that people may expect to be socially excluded when they express endorsement of conspiracy theories. This effect should be partially explained by the knowledge of the negative perceptions associated with conspiracy theories. In Study 1, inducing French internet users to write a text endorsing (vs. criticizing) conspiracy theories about the Charlie Hebdo shooting, led them to anticipate fear of social exclusion. This effect was mediated by anticipated negative evaluation of the self. In Study 2, inducing French internet users to imagine defending (vs. criticizing) conspiracy theories about the Charlie Hebdo shooting in front of an audience, led them to anticipate fear of social exclusion. The effect was again mediated by anticipated negative evaluation of the self. To conclude, our findings demonstrate that conspiracy theories can be viewed as a source of social stigma. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
... (Goldberg, 2004, p. 260) There is an absence of a scholarly exploration of the evolution of the terms conspiracy theory, conspiracy theories, conspiracy theorist, and conspiracy theorists as pejoratives (deHaven-Smith, personal communication, September 14, 2014;deHaven-Smith & Witt, 2013;Manwell, 2010). There are a few explorations of the terms' use as pejorative silencers (Green, 2015;Husting & Orr, 2007), but little academic evidence and support exists for the contention of intentional hegemonic construction of the memes (Bratich, 2008, deHaven-Smith & Witt, 2013Green, 2015). This review includes the ways in which the underlying individual and group psychological processes might be manipulated through mass media to construct a pejorative meme in common language (Hallin, 1985). ...
... (Olmsted, 2009, p. 3). Although not always expressing an immoral or illegal intent, the terms conspiracy theory and conspiracy theorist hold negative connotations for most people (Coady, 2007;Fenster, 2009;Husting & Orr, 2007). Certainly, the idea of important decisions made in secrecy is antidemocratic and that likely seems unjust to many (Pigden, 2006). ...
... How can one prove or disprove something crafted in secrecy? In fact, to label something a conspiracy theory is to assign it negative epistemic status (Coady, 2006) and labeling one explanation among competing explanations a conspiracy theory serves to legitimize the others (Husting & Orr, 2007). ...
Thesis
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Those rejecting the official accountsof significant suspicious and impactful events are often labeled conspiracy theoristsand the alternative explanations they propose are often referred to as conspiracy theories. These labels are often used to dismiss the beliefs of those individuals who question potentially hegemonic control of what people believe. The conspiracy theory concept functions as an impediment to legitimate discursive examination of conspiracy suspicions. The effect of the label appears to constrain even the most respected thinkers. This impedimentis particularly problematic in academia,where thorough, objective analysis of information is critical to uncovering truth, and where members of the academy are typically considered among the most important ofepistemic authorities.This dissertation trackedthe development and use of suchterms as pejoratives used to shut down critical thinking, analysis,and challenges to authority.This was accomplished using critical discourse analysis as a research methodology. Evidence suggesting government agents were instrumental in creating the pejorative meme conspiracy theoristwas found in contemporary media. Tracing the evolution of the conspiracy theory meme and its use as a pejorative silencer may heighten awareness of its use in this manner and diminish its impact.
... I first turn back to the introduction, where I noted that "conspiracy theorist" is somewhat of a pejorative term. Husting and Orr (2007) offer a quite detailed argument against the term, arguing that it is "a reframing device that neutralizes questions about power and motive while turning the force of challenges back on their speakers" (Husting & Orr, 2007, p. 146). Calling someone a conspiracy theorist is a way of de-legitimizing their position on an issue, and frequently requires an individual to come to their own defense (Husting & Orr, 2007). ...
... Husting and Orr (2007) offer a quite detailed argument against the term, arguing that it is "a reframing device that neutralizes questions about power and motive while turning the force of challenges back on their speakers" (Husting & Orr, 2007, p. 146). Calling someone a conspiracy theorist is a way of de-legitimizing their position on an issue, and frequently requires an individual to come to their own defense (Husting & Orr, 2007). As such, a more neutral term might be useful for discussing these topics, especially since feelings of social exclusion have been shown to increase conspiratorial thinking. ...
Article
Even though the internet has dramatically changed the quantity and accessibility of information, there are large — and sometimes powerful — elements of society that are politically and emotionally invested in beliefs that are not supported by current evidence. These are generally referred to as “conspiracy theories”. Although this may be a pejorative term, to date there is no suitable neutral term, and the term conspiracy theory is used across multiple fields, ranging from computer science to cognitive science. In this paper I explore how conspiracy theories form, and how the internet has changed — or more frequently, not changed — the spread of conspiracy theories, in particular through social media networks such as Facebook or Twitter. Conspiracies theories spread much like scientific knowledge online, revealing that they are in some essences very similar constructs. The growth of user-specific filters and social exclusion are likely factors in the spread of these theories. Though some have argued to treat conspiracy theories as dangerous or harmful speech — such as in the case of vaccination refusal — I argue against limiting speech and instead suggest information literacy and a focus on analytical thinking as remedies. I also argue against further stigmatization of conspiracy theorists, as this will likely contribute to further radicalization.
... For example, Raab et al. (2013) explicitly argue for the abandonment of thinking about conspiracy theories in the paranoid style, as belief in such theories is "a common, regulative and possibly benign phenomenon" (1). Sociologists, too, point to the dangers of taking the pejorative connotation of "conspiracy theory" as a given in terms of demobilizing dissenting voices (Husting & Orr, 2007). ...
Article
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Napolitano (The epistemology of fake news, Oxford University Press, 2021) argues that the Minimalist Account of conspiracy theories—i.e., which defines conspiracy theories as explanations, or theories, about conspiracies—should be rejected. Instead, she proposes to define conspiracy theories as a certain kind of belief—i.e., an evidentially self-insulated belief in a conspiracy. Napolitano argues that her account should be favored over the Minimalist Account based on two considerations: ordinary language intuitions and theoretical fruitfulness. I show how Napolitano’s account fails its own purposes with respect to these two considerations and so should not be favored over the Minimalist Account. Furthermore, I propose that the Minimalist Account is the best conception of ‘conspiracy theory’ if we share Napolitano’s goal of advancing the understanding of conspiracy theories.
... A number of commentators have noted that the label "conspiracy theory" is derogatory. For example, Husting and Orr (2007) call the conspiracy-theory label "a routinized strategy of exclusion." Harambam and Aupers (2015, 467) comment that "… those who are labeled 'conspiracy theorists' are a priori dismissed by academics and excluded from public debate." ...
Article
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Claiming that someone subscribes to a conspiracy theory can be a potent method of denigration. I observed this process up close: the thesis of one of my PhD students was alleged to endorse a conspiracy theory, therefore discrediting it. Journalists, bloggers, petition signers, Wikipedia editors and scientists endorsed the allegations without assessing whether the thesis actually propounded a conspiracy, without assessing whether evidence was provided for the alleged conspiracy, and without providing any evidence that the allegation discredited the thesis. It seems that few people will question a claim that is endorsed by others, meshes with what they would like to believe, and requires effort to check.
... How can we make sense of this phenomenon sociologically? The phrase conspiracy theorist is commonly deployed as a tool of dismissal and exclusion (Husting and Orr 2007), and much of the previous literature on this topic either focuses on psychological factors or the political determinants and consequences of conspiracism (DiGrazia 2017). Instead, in this theoretical essay I take conspiracy theorizing seriously as a form of cultural cognition. ...
Article
Expert knowledge informs the construction of public problems from gun violence to disease epidemics to climate change, and institutional actors draw on this knowledge to implement public policy to mitigate or repair the related harms. The expanding role of experts and institutions in managing risks has come at a time of declining public trust in institutions and a legitimacy crisis around expert knowledge. What happens when these tendencies collide? Previous scholarship has examined how disaster arises through failures of foresight, and how cultural‐cognitive biases can prevent actors from seeing disasters coming. Less is known about the mobilization of resistance against risk management policies. This theoretical essay examines a particular category of that resistance: conspiracist discourse that frames risk as emanating primarily from perceived secret agendas of institutions and experts that explicitly claim to be acting in the public interest. This essay argues that conspiracy thinking can be best understood as rooted in a “populist risk imaginary,” which is rooted in negative asymmetry, a cultural‐cognitive bias that foregrounds the possibility of worst‐case outcomes. Conspiracy discourse can be understood as the “dark side” of negative asymmetry, which is otherwise used by service‐oriented professionals to sharpen their foresight in preempting future dangers.
... Recently defined by Bennett and Livingston (2018) as "intentional falsehoods" spread with the aim of disrupting "authoritative information flows" (124), disinformation-and especially the conspiracy theories that fall under this classification-undercuts "social and political institutions" and the public trust that is the core of democratic communication (126,127). Admittedly, denouncing conspiracy theories in this way is at odds with some scholarship, as many critics have cautioned that the label of "conspiracy theorist" has been used to disempower marginalized groups and dismiss claims about real-life conspiracies (Husting and Orr 2007). However, there must also be a way to account for conspiracy theories based in prejudice and deception, what Keeley (1999) called "unwarranted conspiracy theories." ...
Article
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Building on the notion of post-truth, this essay suggests that Donald Trump—both as a candidate and president—has crafted a notion of post-presumption argumentation. While there are many theories of how presumption functions in argumentation, scholars agree that it is largely a procedural device meant to promote deliberation. The essay suggests that post-presumption argumentation has become a new model—rising partly from a cultural shift triggered by rampant conspiracy theorizing by political and social elites—that undercuts the presumption of veracity, undermines faith in institutions that give presumptions force, and rejects deliberation as a communal goal.
... Knight, 2000;Uscinski and Parent, 2014). Such pejorative images are not without their consequences: labelling someone a 'conspiracy theorist' is a discursive strategy to disqualify an argument and to exclude the speaker effectively from public debate (Husting and Orr, 2007). ...
... Na takve tvrdnje institucije onda još reaguju borbom: pokušavaju da uspostave reautorizaciju putem marginalizacije teorija zavere (Bratich, 2008). U krajnjoj liniji, etiketa teorija zavere se u političkom kontekstu koristi i kao retoričko sredstvo za delegitimizaciju određenih tvrdnji koje preispituju, možda i sa punim pravom i racionalnošću, neka zvanična objašnjenja ili političke malverzacije (Coady, 2007;Husting & Orr, 2007). Odnos institucija i teorija zavere je, kao što možemo videti, veoma složen. ...
Article
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Mnoge društvene i humanističke discipline u proteklih nekoliko decenija interesovale su se za fenomen teorija zavera. Te discipline se dominantno oslanjaju na jednu od dve šire perspektive: kulturalnu (koju čine istorija, antropologija, etnologija, sociologija, studije kulture, književnosti, itd.) ili pozitivističku (psihologija i političke nauke). Između ove dve grupe postoji izvestan jaz u tome kako razumeju prirodu fenomena, šta smatraju manifestacijama pojave, kao i u primenjenoj metodologiji i načinu interpretiranja rezultata i njihovih implikacija. U ovom radu ne kontrastiramo ova dva pristupa, naprotiv, nastojimo da pokažemo da je tema teorija zavere par exelance sociokulturalno pitanje, kao i da perspektiva sociokulturalne teorije predstavlja način da se pomenuti jaz prevaziđe koristeći prednosti oba pristupa. Ako kulturalni pristup posmatra teorije zavere kao proizvod kulture, a pozitivistički kao pitanje pojedinca ili grupe pojedinaca, onda se kroz sociokulturalnu perspektivu posmatra kako pojedinac aktivno deluje u zajednici koja je kroz vreme razvila diskurs teorija zavere. Posmatrajući odnos ponašanja pojedinca i kulture na ovaj način možemo proučavati kako pojedinci svrsishodno učestvuju u (ko-)konstrukciji i transformaciji značenja, diskursa i konspiracionističkih narativa, koja se dešava u razmeni sa grupom i kulturalnim kontekstom, kao i na koji način upotrebljava teorije zavere i druge artefakte.
... It is obvious enough that when a claim is labelled a 'conspiracy', interlocutors and audiences are pointed away from the content of specific claims and towards the social-psychological status of the people making them (Goshorn, 2000;Hustings and Orr, 2007). This is a classic example of an ad hominem attack. ...
Article
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Conspiracies play a significant role in world politics. States often engage in covert operations. They plot in secret, with and against each other. At the same time, conspiracies are often associated with irrational thinking and delusion. We address this puzzle and highlight the need to see conspiracies as more than just empirical phenomena. We argue that claims about conspiracies should be seen as narratives that are intrinsically linked to power relations and the production of foreign policy knowledge. We illustrate the links between conspiracies, legitimacy and power by examining multiple conspiracies associated with 9/11 and the War on Terror. Two trends are visible. On the one hand, US officials identified a range of conspiracies and presented them as legitimate and rational, even though some, such as the alleged covert development of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, are now widely considered false. On the other hand, conspiracies circulating in the Arab-Muslim world were dismissed as irrational and pathological, even though some, like those concerned with the covert operation of US power in the Middle East, were based on credible concerns.
... However, these do not always work in practice, which leads several scholars to define conspiracy theories in relational terms, as sets of ideas that challenge mainstream knowledge and officially sanctioned truths (Drążkiewicz & Rabo, 2021;Harambam, 2020a;Pelkmans & Machold, 2011). This situated understanding of the concept itself highlights the central role of power in the definition of what we regard as conspiracy theories, and in the usage of the term as a political instrument of exclusion (Bratich, 2008;Husting & Orr, 2007). ...
Article
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Many people use conspiracy theories to make sense of a changing world and its ever more complexif social structures (e.g., international financial systems, global bodies of governance), tragic events (e.g., terrorist attacks, man-made catastrophes, or natural disasters), or socio-political and economic issues (e.g., security, migration, distribution of resources, health care). The widespread flourishing of conspiracy theories in this context has prompted much interest from the academic community. There is often an expectation that it is the responsibility of researchers to engage with conspiracy beliefs by debunking them. However, like everything that relates to conspiracy theories, even the subject of debunking is not straightforward. An answer to the question as to whether researchers should debunk conspiracy theories varies across disciplines and schools, and is closely related to specific ethical codes of conduct, research methodologies, and specific approaches to conspiracy theories. While scholars who study this cultural phenomenon from a non-normative and epistemologically neutral position might wish to refrain from debunking conspiracy theories, others who see conspiracy theories as the irrational, overly suspicious and even dangerous ideas of people who don’t quite understand what is ‘really’ going on, might lean towards the debunking stance. In this special issue, we explore different approaches that academics may take in relation to conspiracy theories.
... However appropriate and adequate this research strategy is in theory, it turns out difficult in practice, as I found out myself, to remain agnostic about conspiracy theories and stay neutral in the contestations they are embroiled in. First of all, by writing about conspiracy theories/ists in non-normative fashion, I contribute to the rehabilitation of this stigmatised term (Husting & Orr, 2007), and, according to some (critics), I give conspiracy theorists as such too much of a stage for their (flawed and dangerous) ideas (Harambam, 2020a, pp. 231-238). ...
Article
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Various societal and academic actors argue that conspiracy theories should be debunked by insisting on the truthfulness of real “facts” provided by established epistemic institutions. But are academic scholars the appropriate actors to correct people’s beliefs and is that the right and most productive thing to do? Drawing on years of ethnographic research experiences in the Dutch conspiracy milieu, I explain in this paper why debunking conspiracy theories is not possible (can scholars actually know the real truth?), not professional (is taking sides in truth wars what we should do?), and not productive (providing more “correct” information won’t work as knowledge acceptance is not just a cognitive/epistemic issue). Instead of reinstalling the modernist legitimation narrative of science, I argue in this paper for an alternative that is both epistemologically stronger and sociologically more effective. Building from research and experiments with epistemic democracy in the field of science and technology studies, I propose to have “deliberative citizen knowledge platforms”, instead of elite experts groups alone, asses the quality of public information. Such societally representative bodies should enjoy more legitimacy and epistemic diversity to better deal with conspiracy theories and the broader societal conflicts over truth and knowledge they represent.
... This fact is often ideologically weaponized against these minorities, its 'truth' is no counterforce [24]. The same holds for the charge of "conspiracy theorist" itself, which can be levelled against people to discredit them [25] but, at the same time, is not immune to such weaponization if proven true or untrue. A focus on the epistemological dimension entrenches the discussions on conspiracy theory in a back-and-forth on the possibility of dismissing such theories out of hand or on a case-bycase basis through evidence. ...
Article
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The contention in this paper is that the theological-political disputes Spinoza was concerned with 350 years ago are similar to the conspiratorial disputes we experience today. The world in Spinoza’s Tractatus theologico-politicus, a political intervention in his time, serves as a “mirror image”, that is to say, it deals with the same problem we face today albeit in a different mode. Understanding our contemporary condition under the auspices of a Spinozist perspective, problems in countermeasures to the conspiratorial disputes come to light. Scholarly work and practice focus on the epistemological dimension of conspiracy theories, tying in the extent to which they are problematic to the degree in which they deal in untruth. However, the lesson from Spinoza’s analysis of the theological-political disputes is that such theories do not deal in truth, but, in affect, they do not spring from a lack of education but a lack of certainty. The work of Spinoza opens up a different approach, and if our aim is like that of the TTP, to defend political life against the threat of civil war, such a different approach is in order.
... Scholars, though, have been struggling to provide a thorough definition of what a conspiracy theory is and what narratives and stories pertain, or not, to the genre. To a certain degree, in fact, the label conspiracy theory works as a "strategy of exclusion" (Husting and Orr 2007), operating as a way to distinguish, validate, and dignify what it is not (see, e.g., Byford 2011, 22). Moreover, as Jesse Walker (2018) points out, everyday usage is "even more slippery," given that the term very often has evaluative (derogatory) connotations (see also Byford 2011, 17, 21;Räikkä and Basham 2018). ...
Article
Why do people find conspiracy theories attractive, convincing, or useful? In this article, I analyze conspirituality—that is, the relationships between New Age spirituality and conspiracy theories—in Italy during the COVID-19 lockdown. After distinguishing between conspiracy-believing and belief in conspiracies, I claim that conspiracy-believing could be understood as an aesthetic (sensory and artistic) practice. In doing so, I offer a novel interpretation on conspiracism that complements current scholarship while departing from the latter’s focus on the cognitive and emotional weaknesses of those who adopt conspiracy theories. By engaging with the thought of Jacques Rancière, in conversation with studies on contemporary Paganism and Western esotericism, I consider the adoption of conspiracy theories as an expression of dissensus by a community of sense that does not look only for visibility but, rather, wants to be fully acknowledged, recognized, and legitimized in their “participatory”—or “magical”—way of inhabiting the world.
... While the academic and political uses of the expression have been more thoroughly documented (Husting and Orr 2007;Coady 2012Coady , 2018a, the ordinary use of conspiracy theory has not been systematically investigated empirically, and these philosophers have primarily relied on examples and personal observations on the use of the expression. Basham takes Wood (2016) to provide empirical evidence that conspiracy theory does not have a negative connotation: ...
Article
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In much of the current academic and public discussion, conspiracy theories are portrayed as a negative phenomenon, linked to misinformation, mistrust in experts and institutions, and political propaganda. Rather surprisingly, however, philosophers working on this topic have been reluctant to incorporate a negatively evaluative aspect when either analyzing or engineering the concept conspiracy theory. In this paper, we present empirical data on the nature of the concept conspiracy theory from five studies designed to test the existence, prevalence and exact form of an evaluative dimension to the ordinary concept conspiracy theory. These results reveal that, while there is a descriptive concept of conspiracy theory, the predominant use of conspiracy theory is deeply evaluative, encoding information about epistemic deficiency and often also derogatory and disparaging information. On the basis of these results, we present a new strategy for engineering conspiracy theory to promote theoretical investigations and institutional discussions of this phenomenon. We argue for engineering conspiracy theory to encode an epistemic evaluation, and to introduce a descriptive expression—such as ‘conspiratorial explanation’—to refer to the purely descriptive concept conspiracy theory.
... Our findings have implications for engaging with conspiracy theories in the wider world. The label "conspiracy theory" has a history of pejorative usage implying mental instability and paranoia on the part of believers (Dentith, 2016), and plausible conspiracy theories are often dismissed through mere use of this label (Dentith & Orr, 2018;Husting & Orr, 2007). Even historically true conspiracy beliefs have been dismissed by critics through mere application of the label, though typically before they are verified as historically true. ...
Preprint
People who strongly endorse conspiracy theories typically exhibit biases in domain-general reasoning. We describe an overfitting hypothesis, according to which (a) such theories overfit conspiracy-related data at the expense of wider generalisability, and (b) reasoning biases reflect, at least in part, the need to reduce the resulting dissonance between the conspiracy theory and wider data. This hypothesis implies that reasoning biases should be more closely associated with belief in implausible conspiracy theories (e.g., the moon landing was faked) than with more plausible ones (e.g., the Russian Federation orchestrated the attack on Sergei Skripal). In two pre-registered studies, we found that endorsement of implausible conspiracy theories, but not plausible ones, was associated with reduced information sampling in an information-foraging task and with less reflective reasoning. Thus, the relationship between belief in conspiracy theories and reasoning is not homogeneous, and reasoning is not linked specifically to the “conspiracy” aspect of conspiracy theories. Instead, it may reflect an adaptive response to the tension between implausible theories and other beliefs and data.
... Indeed, some generalists (like Swami et al. (2014) and Daniel Pipes, 1997) argue that conspiracy theories are just false by definition. 7 For more discussion about the perils of the label 'conspiracy theory' see Husting and Orr (2007) Indeed, as Basham (2011) andI (2016b) have independently argued, the history of actual conspiracies can play a positive role in determining whether a particular conspiracy theory now is warranted. ...
Article
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Conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists have been accused of a great many sins, but are the conspiracy theories conspiracy theorists believe epistemically problematic? Well, according to some recent work (such as Cassam Quassim, Keith Harris, and M. Guilia Napolitano), yes, they are. Yet a number of other philosophers (myself included) like Brian L. Keeley, Charles Pigden, Kurtis Hagen, Lee Basham, and the like have argued ‘No!’ I will argue that there are features of certain conspiracy theories which license suspicion of such theories. I will also argue that these features only license a limited suspicion of these conspiracy theories, and thus we need to be careful about generalising from such suspicions to a view of the warrant of conspiracy theories more generally. To understand why, we need to get to the bottom of what exactly makes us suspicious of certain conspiracy theories, and how being suspicious of a conspiracy theory does not always tell us anything about how likely the theory in question is to be false.
... They relate conspiracy theories to the complexities of today's globalized, hyperreal and risk-saturated world, and see them as "necessary," "creative," "logical," "appropriate," "tactical," and even "productive" responses to technological, social, and cultural change (Birchall, 2006;Dean, 1998;Fenster, 2008;Knight, 2000;Melley, 2000). Furthermore, they argue that what constitutes a conspiracy theory is a consequence of societal power asymmetries which enable their stigmatized labeling and societal exclusion (Bjerg and Presskorn-Thygesen, 2017;Bratich, 2008;Husting and Orr, 2007;Pelkmans and Machold, 2011). Prevalent academic distinctions between irrational conspiracy theories and rational science can therefore be seen as professional boundary work, upholding the epistemic authority of science (Harambam and Aupers, 2015). ...
Article
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Conspiracy theories are central to “post-truth” discussions. Official knowledge, backed by science, politics, and media, is distrusted by various people resorting to alternative (conspiratorial) explanations. While elite commentators lament the rise of such “untruths,” we know little of people’s everyday opinions on this topic, despite their societal ramifications. We therefore performed a qualitative content analysis of 522 comments under a Dutch newspaper article on conspiracy theories to study how ordinary people discuss post-truth matters. We found four main points of controversy: “habitus of distrust”; “who to involve in public debates”; “which ways of knowing to allow”; and “what is at stake?” The diverging opinions outline the limits of pluralism in a post-truth era, revealing tensions between technocratic and democratic ideals in society. We show that popular opinions on conspiracy theories embody more complexity and nuance than elite conceptions of post-truth allow for: they lay bare the multiple sociological dimensions of poly-truth.
... Une conséquence dommageable de cette approche est d'amplifier la stigmatisation et l'étiquetage que peuvent subir les individus défendant des théories du complot (Husting & Orr, 2007 ;Kumareswaran, 2014 ;Wood & Douglas, 2013). Cela pourrait expliquer pourquoi les personnes qui défendent des positions conspirationnistes se défendent d'être des « conspirationnistes » (Wood & Douglas, 2013). ...
Thesis
Dans cette thèse, nous défendons l'idée que la motivation à se distinguer d'autrui (et plus précisément, le besoin d'unicité) pourrait favoriser l'adoption et l'augmentation des croyances aux théories du complot. Cette relation s'expliquerait par le fait que les individus ayant un fort besoin d'unicité auraient davantage tendance à être attirés par ce qui rare ou inaccessible, et nous argumentons que c'est justement ce qui caractérise les récits conspirationnistes (e.g., impression de détenir des informations secrètes). Nous présenterons 12 études ayant pour but de tester empiriquement cette hypothèse.Parmi les principaux résultats, nous avons montré que les individus disposant d'un niveau de croyances aux théories du complot supérieur à la moyenne pensent avoir un niveau de croyances à ces théories supérieur à celui attribué aux autres (Etudes 4, 5 et 6), ce qui correspond à un prérequis nécessaire à la formulation de notre hypothèse. Nous avons ensuite mis en évidence que plus les personnes possèdent un fort besoin d'unicité, plus elles croient aux théories du complot (Etude 8). Conformément à notre hypothèse, nous avons également démontré que les personnes qui croient aux théories du complot ont plus tendance à penser détenir des informations rares et secrètes à propos de divers complots (Etude 9). Une méta-analyse conduite sur deux études testant le rôle causal du besoin d'unicité sur les croyances aux théories du complot (Etudes 11 et 12) suggère enfin qu'une hausse situationnelle du besoin d'unicité favoriserait la formation des croyances aux théories du complot.Dans l'ensemble, il semblerait donc que le besoin d'unicité intervienne dans l'adoption des croyances aux théories du complot, même si cet effet semble de taille relativement modeste. En conclusion, cette thèse fait partie des rares travaux soulignant le rôle des explications motivationnelles dans l'adhésion aux théories du complot.
... Some suggested the label is used to deliberately undermine alternative explanations, since it categorizes together both "reasonable" alternative explanations using everyday ontologies for single events and more complex conspiratorial narratives using more novel ontologies (e.g., R1.1, R5, and R11). The evident oddity of novel ontologies is used by association to undermine reasonable explanations (see Husting and Orr, 2007). The CT label may also diminish the force of the argument by shifting the focus onto the credibility of the CT believer (R10, R11, and R7). ...
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Conspiracy theories (CTs) are widespread ways by which people make sense of unsettling or disturbing cultural events. Belief in CTs is often connected to problematic consequences, such as decreased engagement with conventional political action or even political extremism, so understanding the psychological and social qualities of CT belief is important. CTs have often been understood to be “monological,” displaying the tendency for belief in one conspiracy theory to be correlated with belief in (many) others. Explanations of monologicality invoke a nomothetical or “closed” mindset whereby mutually supporting beliefs based on mistrust of official explanations are used to interpret public events as conspiracies, independent of the facts about those events (which they may ignore or deny). But research on monologicality offers little discussion of the content of monological beliefs and reasoning from the standpoint of the CT believers. This is due in part to the “access problem”: CT believers are averse to being researched because they often distrust researchers and what they appear to represent. Using several strategies to address the access problem we were able to engage CT believers in semi-structured interviews, combining their results with analysis of media documents and field observations to reconstruct a conspiracy worldview – a set of symbolic resources drawn on by CT believers about important dimensions of ontology, epistemology, and human agency. The worldview is structured around six main dimensions: the nature of reality, the self, the outgroup, the ingroup, relevant social and political action, and possible future change. We also describe an ascending typology of five types of CT believers, which vary according to their positions on each of these dimensions. Our findings converge with prior explorations of CT beliefs but also revealed novel aspects: A sense of community among CT believers, a highly differentiated representation of the outgroup, a personal journey of conversion, variegated kinds of political action, and optimistic belief in future change. These findings are at odds with the typical image of monological CT believers as paranoid, cynical, anomic and irrational. For many, the CT worldview may rather constitute the ideological underpinning of a nascent pre-figurative social movement.
... Conspiracy theories about science would not present a major obstacle to public acceptance of science if they were confined to the fringes of society or endorsed only by psychologically troubled individuals, as the popular, derogatory stereotype of the "conspiracy theorist" would suggest (Husting & Orr, 2007). However, over a third of Americans agree that "global warming is a hoax", according to a recent poll (Public Policy Polling, 2013). ...
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As science continues to progress, attitudes towards science seem to become ever more polarized. Whereas some put their faith in science, others routinely reject and dismiss scientific evidence. The current chapter provides an integration of recent research on how people evaluate science. We organize our chapter along three research topics that are most relevant to this goal: ideology, motivation, and morality. We review the relations of political and religious ideologies to science attitudes, discuss the psychological functions and motivational underpinnings of belief in science, and describe work looking at the role of morality when evaluating science and scientists. In the final part of the chapter, we apply what we know about science evaluations to the current crisis of faith in science and the open science movement. Here, we also take into account the increased accessibility and popularization of science and the (perceived) relations between science and industry.
... Our findings have implications for engaging with conspiracy theories in the wider world. The label "conspiracy theory" has a history of pejorative usage implying mental instability and paranoia on the part of believers (Dentith, 2016), and plausible conspiracy theories are often dismissed through mere use of this label (Dentith & Orr, 2018;Husting & Orr, 2007). Even historically true conspiracy beliefs have been dismissed by critics through mere application of the label, though typically before they are verified as historically true. ...
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People who strongly endorse conspiracy theories typically exhibit biases in domain-general reasoning. We describe an overfitting hypothesis, according to which (a) such theories overfit conspiracy-related data at the expense of wider generalisability, and (b) reasoning biases reflect, at least in part, the need to reduce the resulting dissonance between the conspiracy theory and wider data. This hypothesis implies that reasoning biases should be more closely associated with belief in implausible conspiracy theories (e.g., the moon landing was faked) than with more plausible ones (e.g., the Russian Federation orchestrated the attack on Sergei Skripal). In two pre-registered studies, we found that endorsement of implausible conspiracy theories, but not plausible ones, was associated with reduced information sampling in an information-foraging task and with less reflective reasoning. Thus, the relationship between belief in conspiracy theories and reasoning is not homogeneous, and reasoning is not linked specifically to the “conspiracy” aspect of conspiracy theories. Instead, it may reflect an adaptive response to the tension between implausible theories and other beliefs and data.
... 118 The term 'conspiracy theorist' has long been a common, and perhaps an effective, way of excluding people with alternative viewpoints from political discussion. 119 Following gas attacks in Syria in 2017, anyone suggesting the Syrian government may not have been responsible was, ipso facto, a conspiracy theorist. Theodore Postol, a weapons expert and Professor Emeritus at MIT was labeled as such for opposing the US government's position on the Syrian issue. ...
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The initiation of military or economic punishment generally on states requires significant justification, lest it be judged an act of aggression. In 2018 two separate incidents invoked similar rationales for such acts of reprisal, specifically that they were responding to attacks using chemical weapons. The incidents were an alleged sarin gas attack by the Syrian government on political opponents, which led to military strikes from the United States, and an alleged poisoning via novichok nerve agents by the Russian government on a Russian ex-spy and his daughter, which led to economic sanctions from the United Kingdom. In both cases, however, evidence of culpability fell short of what legal standards typically require. Despite this, media coverage has failed to examine alternative scenarios or to offer effective critical assessment of the weak rationalizations offered by US and UK governments. The result, precipitate and incautious policy, driven by hasty conclusions rather than careful analysis, represents a failure on the part of both media and government institutions to present the public with an even-handed and neutral assessment of matters vital to their national interest.
... The second structure of exclusion I discuss is the term conspiracy theory. Husting and Orr (2007) critique this term as a metadiscursive "vocabulary of motive in struggles over the meaning of social and political worlds, events, and ideas" (2007, p. 132). In simple terms, its use signifies a discursive move of "going meta", that is, "elect[ing] to step back from the immediacy of a question to question the questioner's motives, or tone, or premises, or right to ask certain questions, or right to ask any questions at all" (Simons, 1994, p. 470). ...
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This article critically examines the discourse around the Covid-19 pandemic to investigate the widespread polarisation evident in social media debates. The model of epidemic psychology holds that initial adverse reactions to a new disease spread through linguistic interaction. The main argument is that the mediation of the pandemic through social media has fomented the effects of epidemic psychology in the reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic by providing continued access to commentary and linguistic interaction. This social interaction in the absence of any knowledge on the new disease can be seen as a discourse of knowledge production, conducted largely on social media. This view, coupled with a critical approach to the power relations inherent in all processes of knowledge production, provides an approach to understanding the dynamics of polarisation, which is, arguably, issue-related and not along common ideological lines of left and right. The paper critiques two discursive structures of exclusion, the terms science and conspiracy theory , which have characterised the knowledge production discourse of the Covid-19 pandemic on social media. As strategies of dialogic contraction, they are based on a hegemonic view of knowledge production and on the simplistic assumption of an emancipated position outside ideology. Such an approach, though well-intentioned, may ultimately undermine social movements of knowledge production and thus threaten the very values it aims to protect. Instead, the paper proposes a Foucauldian approach that problematises truth claims and scientificity as always ideological and that is aware of power as inherent to all knowledge production.
... Yet other authors suggest that conspiracy theories might encourage a useful, critical attitude towards authorities and promote transparency (e.g. Basham, 2003;Husting & Orr, 2007); some even consider them vital to a functioning democracy (Bjerg & Presskorn-Thygesen, 2017). Our findings indicate that psychologists and cultural studies scholars may be talking about different phenomena, which perhaps map on to our two dimensions of conspiracy mentality, with skepticism underlying the healthy suspicion of more mundane abuses of power that some scholars applaud. ...
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Beliefs in conspiracy theories, generally considered to be a unidimensional construct, are associated with negative outcomes. The existing measures of conspiracy theory beliefs have number of shortcomings. We present the development of a novel measure of the tendency to believe in conspiracy theories and report the discovery of a second factor that reflects rational skepticism. In Study 1 (N = 500) we use item response theory to devise the final items. In Study 2 (N = 202) we demonstrate the predictive validity of the two factors for different types of conspiracies. In Study 3 (N = 308) we demonstrate convergent/divergent validity. In Study 4 (N = 800) we demonstrate construct validity in three countries. Implications for the concept of conspiracy theory and conspiracy theory beliefs are discussed.
Chapter
As science continues to progress, attitudes toward science seem to become ever more polarized. Whereas some put their faith in science, others routinely reject and dismiss scientific evidence. This chapter provides an integration of recent research on how people evaluate science. We organize our chapter along three research topics that are most relevant to this goal: ideology, motivation, and morality. We review the relations of political and religious ideologies to science attitudes, discuss the psychological functions and motivational underpinnings of belief in science, and describe work looking at the role of morality when evaluating science and scientists. In the final part of the chapter, we apply what we know about science evaluations to the current crisis of faith in science and the open science movement. Here, we also take into account the increased accessibility and popularization of science and the (perceived) relations between science and industry.
Chapter
In this chapter, I trace paranoia and the political logic of conspiracy theorizing as responses to a social order characterized by the psychosis of late capitalism. Critiquing the classical academic approaches to conspiracy forwarded by Hofstadter and Jameson, I theorize the conspiracy theorist not as a pathological individual, but as an actor caught in a symptomatic machination of truth seeking that ultimately leads to political inertia. Reading Lacanian theory alongside a map of conspiracy disguised as a resumé, I develop an understanding of paranoid psychosis as a cultural effect and I work towards a psychoanalytic account of paranoia as a productive, critical, pedagogical disposition.
Article
In view of the negative connotations associated with conspiracy theories, what have been the effects of the term's entry into popular vocabulary in the second half of the twentieth century? Has the ascendancy of the term “conspiracy theory” been correlated with a reluctance to allege conspiracy? In this article, the authors use Hansard, the record of British parliamentary debates, as a source of empirical data in demonstrating a significant and steady reduction in the number of conspiracy claims advanced in parliament; a pattern consistent with the broader marginalization of conspiracy rhetoric. This trend was reinforced by a trope that established itself in the 1980s and juxtaposed “conspiracies” with “cock-ups.” The British expression “cock-up” denotes a blunder or act of incompetence. In the second part of this article, the authors argue that the preference for “cock-up theories” over “conspiracy theories” reflects how a policy geared towards privatization and deregulation tended to characterize government action in terms of incompetence, and not of malfeasance.
Chapter
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Conspiracy theories tend to be taken more seriously by people who are mistrustful and prone to certain forms of magical thinking, have a worldview that generally fits with conspiratorial interpretations of events, feel alienated from society and its norms, and frequently come into contact with other topics outside of the mainstream such as alternative medicine. Conspiracy theories are less plausible when the audience has a positive attitude toward the group implicated as the conspirators, when they are engaged in analytical, detail-focused thinking, and when they feel like they are generally in control of their own fate.
Article
In the literature on conspiracy theories, the least contentious part of the academic discourse would appear to be what we mean by a “conspiracy”: a secretive plot between two or more people toward some end. Yet what, exactly, is the connection between something being a conspiracy and it being secret? Is it possible to conspire without also engaging in secretive behavior? To dissect the role of secrecy in conspiracies – and thus contribute to the larger debate on the epistemology of conspiracy theories – we define the concepts of “conspiracy,” “conspirator,” and “secret,” and argue that while conspirators might typically be thought to commit to keeping secrets once their conspiracy is underway , the idea that conspiracies are necessarily secretive to start with is not as obvious as previously thought.
Thesis
Conspiracy theories (CTs) appear to be an increasingly widespread aspect of everyday thought about social and political events. They call into question common understandings of people and institutions within society, and can have implications for political and policy relevant behaviours (e.g. voting, vaccine uptake). This thesis challenges a central finding in the limited literature covering belief in CTs – the proposition of ‘monologicality’ as proposed by Goertzel (1994), that belief in one CT is accompanied by wholescale endorsement of many others. The thesis takes a mixed-methods approach, triangulating qualitative and quantitative data, to revise our understanding of monologicality. Through qualitative analyses of interview data as presented in Chapters 2, 3 and 4, the central argument put forward is that not all belief in CTs is monological but there are various other ways of endorsing CTs. In Chapter 2, a thematic analysis reveals five types of conspiracist worldviews, proposing a gradient from non-monological worldviews, characterised by intrigue or limited endorsement, to fully monological worldviews premised upon generalised human agency (e.g. government conspiracy) or supernatural agency (e.g. extra-terrestrial cover up, spiritual entities). Chapter 3 advances the concept of ‘dialogicality,’ revealing that CT ideas are endorsed alongside commonplace ideas of science, religion and politics and society. Five dialogical relations are substantiated, including: integrative thinking, synthetic thinking, target dependent thinking, cognitive dissonance and analogical thinking. Chapter 4 provides a narrative insight into the development of CT belief for all five monological types – focussing on the perceived origins of CT belief and later development. Next, we turn to quantitative data gathered via online surveys. Chapter 5 establishes a new scale known as the Conspiracist Worldviews Scale; the first to measure different types of conspiracist worldviews from non-monological to fully 5 monological. Five subscales representing five types of conspiracist worldviews (Type 2, Type 3, Type 4, Type 5-Alien, Type 5-Spiritual) achieve construct, convergent, concurrent and diagnostic validity. The quantitative findings of Chapter 5 validate earlier qualitative findings of Chapters 2-4 and extend previous understandings of monologicality. The thesis concludes, bringing all these empirical findings together and by recognising the importance of looking beyond monologicality if we are to fully understand the phenomena characterising conspiracist belief.
Article
Trotz der steigenden politischen Bedeutung von Verschwörungstheorien gibt es bislang keine qualitativen soziologischen Auseinandersetzungen mit diesem Phänomen. Der vorliegende Beitrag versucht, diese Forschungslücke anhand von qualitativen Interviews mit Mitgliedern einer verschwörungstheoretischen Bewegung zu schließen. Dabei steht die Frage im Zentrum, wie Teilnehmerinnen dieser Bewegung mit internen inhaltlichen Differenzen umgehen und aller Heterogenität zum Trotz eine kollektive Identität ausbilden. Dabei zeigt sich, dass inhaltliche Differenzen ausgeklammert oder ignoriert werden. Während Verschwörungstheoretikerinnen von der Öffentlichkeit zumeist wörtlich, aber nicht ernst genommen werden, verhält es sich im Feld der Verschwörungstheorien umgekehrt. Verschwörungstheorien werden ernst, aber nicht wörtlich genommen. Die kollektive Identität der untersuchten Bewegung ergibt sich nicht aus einem geteilten Glauben an bestimmte Theorien, sondern aus einer kollektiven Opposition zur hegemonialen Wissensproduktion sowie dem gemeinsamen Zelebrieren herrschaftskritischer Lebensstile.
Article
Entre las crecientes discusiones sobre los estilos argumentativos de las teorías de conspiración y los procesos cognitivos relacionados de su público, los estudios hasta ahora son limitados en lo que respecta al desarrollo de métodos y estrategias que podrían desacreditar eficazmente las teorías de conspiración y reducir las influencias dañinas de la exposición a los medios de comunicación conspirativos. El presente estudio evalúa de manera crítica la efectividad de cinco enfoques para reducir la creencia en conspiraciones, a través de experimentos (N=607) realizados en Amazon Mechanical Turk. Nuestros resultados demuestran que los métodos basados en el contenido al enfrentar las teorías de la conspiración pueden mitigar parcialmente la creencia conspiratoria. Específicamente, las correcciones centradas en la ciencia y los hechos fueron capaces de mitigar eficazmente las creencias en la conspiración, mientras que las estrategias de alfabetización mediática e inoculación no produjeron cambios significativos. Más importante aún, nuestros hallazgos ilustran que ambos métodos centrados en el público, que implican decodificar el mito de la teoría de la conspiración y reimaginar las relaciones intergrupales, fueron efectivos para reducir la aceptación cognitiva de la teoría de la conspiración. Basado en estos conocimientos, este estudio contribuye a un examen sistemático de distintos medios epistemológicos para influir (o no) en las creencias conspirativas, una tarea urgente frente a la evidente amenaza infodémica, tanto durante como después de la pandemia de COVID-19.
Article
The pandemic has exacerbated moral panics about conspiracy theories. Yet defining what conspiracy theories are is just as fraught as figuring out what to do about them. This article provides the first empirical demonstration of how the categories ‘conspiracy theory’ and ‘conspiracy theorist’ are used in social interaction. We examined comments from a New Zealand politician about a Covid-19 outbreak at the start of the election period. Using conversation analysis, membership categorisation analysis, and discursive psychology, we tracked how his talk was built and interpreted by participants. The findings show how a conspiracy theory was made recognisable through the machinery of storytelling and how its status as a conspiracy theory was accomplished and challenged through categorisation. We argue that conceptualising conspiracy theories as social actions offers a way to move beyond definitional debates to examine how participants understand and use conspiracy theories in everyday life. (Conspiracy theory, social interaction, categorisation)
Article
Conspiracy theories were once perceived as delusions of individuals on the fringes of society, but have become commonplace in mainstream culture. Today, they are produced, consumed, and circulated on various online media environments. From memes on 4chan, QAnon influencers on Instagram, to flat earth or antivaxx videos on YouTube, modern-day conspiracy culture embodies compelling mediated images and narratives that are composed of various audiovisual materials. Building on Stuart Hall’s encoding/decoding model, and Henry Jenkins’ notion of “participatory culture,” we analyze these audiovisual conspiracy theories as “oppositional readings” of hegemonic truths. More concretely, we analyze how conspiracy theorists reconstruct various audiovisual (mass-media) materials into streamlined narratives on YouTube videos to picture opaque power. Based on an in-depth qualitative analysis of 24 conspiracy theory videos, strategically selected from a larger sample of 200, we present three major categories of audiovisual narrative construction in conspiracy videos on YouTube: (1) Simulating: using fiction, religious and cultural images and narratives to render images of events otherwise invisible; (2) Deciphering: decoding hidden messages by “closely reading” images and looking for hidden symbolism; (3) Exhibiting: exposing information, research, and images that are “hidden in plain sight” but point to conspiracy. This article contributes to the growing body of literature on conspiracy theories by showing how they are not just texts, but should better be seen as media practices involving the recontextualizing of (mass)media material into new audiovisual conspiracy theory narratives. This shapes not just their content and form, but also their place in public discourse.
Article
The term “conspiracy movements” has been mentioned in passing in a variety of texts, but it has yet to be defined. This article defines and critically examines the assumption that conspiracy theorists are too unorganized to “qualify” for movement status. It is suggested that invariant or state-centric theoretical models have obscured conspiracy activism and opts for an approach rooted in multi-institutional politics and New Social Movement theory. This article argues that by introducing conspiracy theories that directly conflict with the official explanation of an event or circumstance, conspiracy activists pose fundamental challenges to the meaning systems that support epistemic authorities.
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We examined how individuals who may be labelled ‘conspiracy theorists’ respond to discrimination against ‘conspiracy theorists’. In line with the Rejection-Identification Model (Branscombe et al., 1999), we hypothesized that perceived group-based discrimination against conspiracy theorists would strengthen identification with the ‘conspiracy theorist’ ingroup. We propose that this relationship might be mediated by meta-conspiracy beliefs, that is, the belief that the discrimination of conspiracy theorists is itself a conspiracy. Three studies (Ns = 97, 364, 747) among participants who had been labelled as ‘conspiracy theorist’ in the past (Studies 1 and 2) or who had been labelled as such at the beginning of the experiment (Study 3) revealed robust positive relationships between perceived discrimination of conspiracy theorists, meta conspiracy beliefs, and identification. Furthermore, in Studies 2 and 3, identification was strongly associated with positive intergroup differentiation and pride to be a conspiracy theorist. However, there was no evidence that a manipulation of discrimination with bogus public opinion polls affected ‘conspiracy theorist’ identification or meta-conspiracy beliefs. A Bayesian internal meta-analysis of the studies returned moderate (for group identification) to strong (for meta-conspiracy beliefs) support for the null hypothesis. In contrast, in Study 3, a manipulation of discrimination by powerholders enhanced both identification and meta-conspiracy beliefs. This suggests that the source of discrimination moderates the causal relationship between perceived discrimination of conspiracy theorists and group identification.
Article
Using the label “conspiracy theory” is widely perceived to be a way of discrediting wild ideas and unsubstantiated claims. However, prior research suggests that labelling statements as conspiracy theories does not reduce people’s belief in them. In four studies, we probed this effect further, and tested the alternative hypothesis that the label “conspiracy theory” is a consequence rather than a cause of (dis)belief in conspiracy-related statements. Replicating prior research, Study 1 (N = 170) yielded no evidence that the label “conspiracy theory” affects belief in statements. In Study 2 (N = 199), we discovered that the less people believed in statements, the more they favoured labelling them as “conspiracy theories”. In Studies 3 and 4 (Ns = 150 and 151), we manipulated the relative believability of statements and found that participants preferred the label “conspiracy theory” for relatively less believable vs. more believable statements. The current research therefore supports the hypothesis that prior (dis)agreement with a statement affects use of the label “conspiracy theory” more than the other way around.
Chapter
This chapter presents findings from an ethnographic study of conspiracy theorists, vociferously present among today’s critics of science. Typically branded by scientists as dangerous, irrational, and deluded loonies, they do however not reject the scientific endeavor per se, but accuse modern universities, research institutes, and the scientists they employ of being insufficiently scientific. They feel that science lacks a skeptical, open-minded, and critical edge and pride themselves on being less dogmatic and more critical than most scientists. They accuse universities of having degenerated into dull, routinized research factories that stand in the way of the free spirit of science: lost in bureaucratic and economic side issues, enlisted by powerful states and corporations, and no longer hospitable to “real” science, driven by open-mindedness and curiosity.
Article
The popularity of conspiracy theories poses a clear challenge for contemporary liberal democracies. Conspiracy theories undermine rational debate, spread dangerous falsehoods and threaten social cohesion. However, any possible public policy response, which would try to contain their spread, needs to respect the liberal commitment to protect pluralism and free speech. A successful justification of such a policy must therefore: 1) clearly identify the problematic class of conspiracy theories; and 2) clarify the grounds on which the state is justified in acting against them. This article argues that the prevailing epistemic approaches to conspiracy theorizing cannot fulfil these criteria. Defining conspiracy theories by their flaws in reasoning, questionable coherence or factual mistakes can neither sharply distinguish problematic conspiracy theories from other, non-problematic worldviews nor justify state action. Thus, we propose to understand conspiracy theories through their ethical unreasonableness. We hold that containment of conspiracy theories is justifiable insofar as they undermine the liberal-democratic ideals of mutual respect, freedom and equality. We then show that such ‘ethical’ criteria for conspiracy theories can be sufficiently robust and clear-cut so that they can serve as a useful guide for public policy.
Chapter
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After the fall of the Iron Curtain, expectations about the rapid democratization, smooth transition to market economy, and integration into the global flux of goods, people, and ideas of Eastern European countries ran high. Over three decades after 1989, the political trends in Eastern Europe, such as the rise of populism, reveal that the democratic transition is easily reversible. With the recent populist revival and the rise of authoritarian leaders in Eastern Europe, however, antisemitic discourse reached mainstream politics and surfaced in campaigns against the American-Jewish billionaire George Soros across the region. Anti-EU and anti-Soros narratives are just two examples of conspiracy theories that have received a great impetus from Eastern Europe in the past decade. Conspiracy theorizing has a long history in Eastern Europe, but scholarship started to reflect on this legacy relatively recently, in a large part as a result of current global political trends and the growing impact of such theories on social imaginaries.
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The label "conspiracy theory", while part of everyday media discourse, is considered by many as problematic. In this research, we postulate the existence of diverging social representations associated with this label and that their relative endorsement is a function of preexisting beliefs. To evaluate this possibility, we examine how generic conspiracist beliefs are associated with two forms of rejection of the label: 1) belief in a meta-conspiracy theory, that is, the belief that the label "conspiracy theory" was purposely created by the elites in order to discredit dissent, and 2) a particularist view of conspiracy theories, that is, the idea that "conspiracy theories" are too diverse to draw any generic conclusions regarding their (ir)rationality and that the label is therefore inadequate. Across two studies (Ns = 1297), using Principal Components (Study 1) and Confirmatory Factor Analysis (Study 2), we found that generic conspiracist beliefs and belief in meta-conspiracy theory were tightly related. Moreover, in Study 2, generic conspiracist beliefs were substantially associated with the endorsement of a particularist view of conspiracy theories. Using lexicometric analyses of open-ended questions about the origin and the perceived validity of the label, we identified four main criticisms addressed to the label: historical (real conspiracies happen), conceptual (the label has no clear definition), normative (the label has a negative connotation) and political (the label is weaponized by powerholders). By contrast, acceptance of the label was justified by arguments referring to common psychological mechanisms, as well as similar narrative and argumentative structures. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.
Article
Conspiracy theories are widely viewed as stigmatized beliefs, and it is often assumed that sharing them will therefore have negative reputational consequences for individuals. In six experiments (two pre-registered), we examined how sharing conspiracy theories can have important consequences for both impression-management and impression-formation. Experiment 1 (N = 354) highlighted people's awareness of an impression-management strategy in sharing conspiracy theories. Participants perceived that others would share conspiracy theories when aiming to create unfavorable impressions, and would avoid sharing them to create favorable impressions. Experiments 2 and 3 (Ns = 137 and 150) examined participants' own impression-management motives for sharing conspiracy theories and demonstrated that these motives depended on their own conspiracy beliefs. Specifically, participants with weaker conspiracy beliefs perceived that they would share conspiracy theories mainly to portray themselves negatively, and as radical, unstable, and unique people, whereas those with stronger conspiracy beliefs perceived that they would share conspiracy theories mainly to appear stable and honest. Experiments 4a, 4b and 5 (Ns = 248, 250 and 417) focused on impression-formation. Participants evaluated fictitious politicians who shared (vs. refuted) conspiracy theories as less predictable and competent, but also as a “rogue” political outsider who is likely to effect change. Moderation analyses indicated that these differences were less pronounced or even reversed among participants with right-wing attitudes (Experiments 4a, Experiment 5) and those with strong conspiracy beliefs (Experiment 5). We discuss the importance of examining conspiracy theories from this communicative perspective.
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Conspiracy theories should be neither believed nor investigated - that is the conventional wisdom. I argue that it is sometimes permissible both to investigate and to believe. Hence this is a dispute in the ethics of belief. I defend epistemic “oughts” that apply in the first instance to belief-forming strategies that are partly under our control. But the belief-forming strategy of not believing conspiracy theories would be a political disaster and the epistemic equivalent of self-mutilation. I discuss several variations of this strategy, interpreting “conspiracy theory” in different ways but conclude that on all these readings, the conventional wisdom is deeply unwise.
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Evaluation de la these du complot au regard de la theorie de la connaissance. Soulevant la question epistemologique et doxastique de la credibilite insitutionnelle, l'A. mesure la pertinence du projet de B. Keeley qui consiste a demontrer l'absence de garantie epistemique de la these du complot au profit de la confiance publique.
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The recent proliferation of scholarship on collective action frames and framing processes in relation to social movements indicates that framing processes have come to be regarded, alongside resource mobilization and political opportunity processes, as a central dynamic in understanding the character and course of social movements. This review examines the analytic utility of the framing literature for understanding social movement dynamics. We first review how collective action frames have been conceptualized, including their characteristic and variable features. We then examine the literature related to framing dynamics and processes. Next we review the literature regarding various contextual factors that constrain and facilitate framing processes. We conclude with an elaboration of the consequences of framing processes for other movement processes and outcomes. We seek throughout to provide clarification of the linkages between framing concepts/processes and other conceptual and theoretical formulations relevant to social movements, such as schemas and ideology.
Book
Why, Timothy Melley asks, have paranoia and conspiracy theory become such prominent features of postwar American culture? In Empire of Conspiracy, Melley explores the recent growth of anxieties about thought-control, assassination, political indoctrination, stalking, surveillance, and corporate and government plots. At the heart of these developments, he believes, lies a widespread sense of crisis in the way Americans think about human autonomy and individuality. Nothing reveals this crisis more than the remarkably consistent form of expression that Melley calls "agency panic"-an intense fear that individuals can be shaped or controlled by powerful external forces. Drawing on a broad range of forms that manifest this fear-including fiction, film, television, sociology, political writing, self-help literature, and cultural theory-Melley provides a new understanding of the relation between postwar American literature, popular culture, and cultural theory. Empire of Conspiracy offers insightful new readings of texts ranging from Joseph Heller's Catch-22 to the Unabomber Manifesto, from Vance Packard's Hidden Persuaders to recent addiction discourse, and from the "stalker" novels of Margaret Atwood and Diane Johnson to the conspiracy fictions of Thomas Pynchon, William Burroughs, Don DeLillo, and Kathy Acker. Throughout, Melley finds recurrent anxieties about the power of large organizations to control human beings. These fears, he contends, indicate the continuing appeal of a form of individualism that is no longer wholly accurate or useful, but that still underpins a national fantasy of freedom from social control.
Article
Symbolic interactionism is one of the most enduring - and certainly the most sociological - of all social psychologies. In this landmark work, Norman K. Denzin traces its tortured history from its roots in American pragmatism to its present-day encounter with poststructuralism and postmodernism. Arguing that if interactionism is to continue to thrive and grow it must incorporate elements of post structural and post-modern theory into its underlying views of history, culture and politics, the author develops a research agenda which merges the interactionist sociological imagination with the critical insights on contemporary feminism and cultural studies. Norman Denzin's programmatic analysis of symbolic interactionism, which develops a politics of interpretation merging theory and practice, will be welcomed by students and scholars in a wide range of disciplines, from sociology to cultural studies.
Article
As the end of the Millennium approaches, conspiracy theories are increasing in number and popularity. In this short essay, I offer an analysis of conspiracy theories inspired by Hume's discussion of miracles. My first conclusion is that whereas Hume can argue that miracles are, by definition, explanations we are not warranted in believing, there is nothing analytic that will allow us to distinguish good from bad conspiracy theories. There is no a priori method for distinguishing warranted conspiracy theories (say, those explaining Watergate) from those which are unwarranted (say, theories about extraterrestrials abducting humans). Nonetheless, there is a cluster of characteristics often shared by unwarranted conspiracy theories. An analysis of the alleged explanatory virtues of unwarranted conspiracies suggests some reasons for their current popularity, while at the same time providing grounds for their rejection. Finally, I discuss how conspiracy theories embody an anachronistic world-view that places the contemporary zeitgeist in a clearer light.
Article
The study of inequality has been largely defined as the study of its measurable extent, degree, and consequences. It is no less important, however, to understand the interactive processes through which inequalities are created and reproduced in concrete settings. The qualitative research that bears on understanding these processes has not yet been consolidated, and thus its theoretical value remains unrealized. In this article we inductively derive from the literature a sensitizing theory of the generic processes through which inequality is reproduced. The major processes that we identify are othering, subordinate adaptation, boundary maintenance, and emotion management. We argue that conceiving the reproduction of inequality in terms of these generic processes can resolve theoretical problems concerning the connection between local action and extralocal inequalities, and concerning the nature of inequality itself.
Article
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Article
This paper explores the structure, circumstances, and consequences of the use of quasi-theories in talk about socially problematic situations. Impelled by a situation within their view which they perceive as disorderly, people attempt to construct its reality by talking about it. In the course of talk, participants tentatively indicate that they are about to pursue a given line of analysis. Such moves take the form of stylized verbal expressions. If the others respond by accepting the indication as a fruitful line to pursue, agreement on a cure for the problematic situation will be forthcoming. They will then draw an inference from the cure to the basic nature of the problem; a specification of the core problem will be constructed. Participants will then build around this specification and its cure a more elaborate causal analysis containing the following elements (a) a distinction between the core problem and essentially illusory aspects of it; (b) causal generalizations that support the analysis; (c) illustrations, examples, and biographical reconstructions; and (d) widespread values and beliefs that support the analysis.
Article
It had been around a long time before the Radical Right discovered it-and its targets have ranged from "the in-ternational bankers" to Masons, J esu-its, and munitions makers. A merican politics has often been an arena for "angry minds: In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But behind this I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exagger-ation, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind. In using the expression "paranoid style" I am not speaking in a clinical sense, but borrowing a clinical term for other purposes. I have neither the competence nor the desire to classify any figures of the past or present as certifiable lunatics. In fact, the idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with pro-foundly disturbed minds. It is the use of par-anoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant. Of course this term is pejorative, and it is meant to be; the paranoid style has a greater affinity for bad causes than good. But nothing really prevents a sound program or demand from being advocated in the paranoid style. Style has more to do with the way in which ideas are believed and advocated than with the truth or falsity of their content. I am interested here in getting at our political psychology through our political rhetoric. The paranoid style is an old and recurrent phenomenon in our public life which has been frequently linked with movements of suspicious discontent. Here is Senator McCarthy, speaking in June 1951 about the parlous situation of the United States: How can we account for our present situ-ation unless we believe that men high in this government are concerting to deliver us to disaster? This must be the product of a great conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man. A conspiracy of infamy so black that, when it is finally exposed, its principals shall be forever deserving of the maledictions of all honest men:' ... What can be made of this unbroken series of decisions and acts con-tributing to the strategy of defeat? They cannot be attributed to incompetence .... The laws of probability would dictate that part of ... [the] decisions would serve the coun-try's interest.
Article
ATLANTA The killing of Saddam Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay, is a tactical victory for the American occupation of Iraq. But it is not a strategic one. By not capturing these odious symbols of the old regime alive and putting them on display, the American occupation authority has denied itself the chance to give absolute proof of their demise to a society that rejects authority and thrives on conspiracy theory. It has also lost an opportunity to give Iraqis a chance to purge their bitterness, and satisfy a deep-seated need for revenge, by confronting their tormentors in court. Yesterday the United States presented evidence — dental records and identifications by officials of the Hussein regime — to prove that the brothers were indeed killed in a firefight with American forces. But many Iraqis seemed unpersuaded. Even more telling, others voiced disappointment over the two not being captured and subjected to the sort of treatment they meted out to their victims. By denying Iraqis their revenge on the sons of Saddam Hussein, the American authorities have overlooked the needs of a society dominated by the rural values of the diverse tribes that make up much of the country's population. This background of revenge may put the lie to the optimistic declarations by United States officials that the corner has been turned in the pacification of Iraq. With the deaths of the two brothers, they predict, Saddam Hussein's followers will lose their will to resist. And while the officials concede that in the short run the deaths may result in increased guerrilla attacks on American troops, they also argue that soon those passions will be spent.
Article
This paper introduces, defines, and discusses a new concept, the disclaimer. The disclaimer is an interactional tactic employed by actors faced with upcoming events or acts which threaten to disrupt emergent meanings or discredit cathected situational identities. Its function is to predefine such problematic events for others in a manner which reduces their salience as interactional cues. Like "accounts" and "quasi-theories," the disclaimer belongs to a class of events, here called "aligning actions," which routinely serve to preserve situational definitions in the face of disruptive lines of conduct. At a broader level, it is suggested that cultural continuity rests in large part upon such aligning actions.
Article
This article both elaborates on and empirically supports Norman Denzin's thesis on the political aesthetics of interpretation. Through a reading of consumer reviews, I discuss both the image and the music of the contemporary pop star Avril Lavigne by combining analytic tools derived from dramaturgy and social semiotics. Specifically, I present consumer reviews of Avril Lavigne's public persona as interpretive acts that decode the practices of production, distribution, and consumption of her alleged subcultural authenticity. I discuss the importance of understanding interpretation as a practice of cultural resistance against the pervasive force of consumerist ideologies and hegemonic mass media discourses. In addition, I reflect on the usefulness of a symbolic interactionist approach to a cultural studies based on Peircean semiotics and Goffmanian dramaturgy.
Article
Although Blumer asserts that to deny the existence of "structure" in human society is "ridiculous," just such a denial has commonly been attributed to him. The more conventional mainstream understanding of structure in sociology however, is theoretically incoherent, as demonstrated by classic and modern studies of, for example, stratification. Blumer's sociology is shown, with particular reference to its bases in the pragmatist tradition, to provide an alternative understanding of structure that is both theoretically coherent and capable of empirical investigation. Furthermore, it is capable of dissolving the dilemma of structure and agency in contemporary sociological theory.
Article
In an attempt to interpret the current international crisis surrounding America’s presence in Iraq, a short, one act play is presented. Drawing on Walter Benjamin, this play writes history by quoting history back to itself. George Bush is placed in a dialogue with Mark Twain, Walter Benjamin, Tom Cruise, Molly Ivins, Walt Whitman, Paulo Freire, David Corn, and others.
Article
Using data collected during a four-year ethnographic study, this article examines the stigma management strategies of kids who are homeless in the San Francisco Bay area. We focus specifically on strategies of inclusion and exclusion. Strategies of inclusion are attempts by homeless kids to establish harmonious relationships with both peers and strangers. The most common are forging friendships, passing, and covering. Strategies of exclusion are aggressive and nonconciliatory attempts to gain social acceptance. They include verbal denigration and physical and sexual posturing. Some of these strategies successfully protect the kids' sense of self, while other strategies had the unintended effect of reinforcing their spoiled identities. We argue that these stigma management strategies are both informed by and interpreted through their disadvantaged social structural location.
Article
Using interview and observational data, this article analyzes how private detectives account for using work-related deceptions. I place special emphasis on how practitioners' accounts draw on professional affiliations and organizational resources that are less available to individuals in their private lives. These affiliations and resources include economic and demographic characteristics of employers, practitioners, clients and investigative targets, state licensing, the profession's social repute, and asymmetries in specialized knowledge between practitioners and laypersons. The conclusion addresses how accounts for work-related deceptions benefit professionals through advantaging them over targets, obscuring harmful consequences of work, and helping them and their clients to avoid negative labeling.
Article
The importance of identity and the definition of the situation for symbolic interactionist theory and research are discussed. These two concepts have been separated in much research since the 1970s, with identity being used in a variety of ways. This separation is partly attributed to paradigm shifts in social science, as well as to popular culture treatments of identity. Popular culture's emphasis on “collective” and “personal” identities is processed through entertainment formats that emphasize emotional and vicarious involvement, drama and action. Materials illustrate the presence of a mass-mediated generalized other, media communities, and the significance this has for realist and postrealist ethnography. Suggestions are offered for a reintegration of identity and the definition of the situation in ethnographic work.
Article
A series of Presidential actions and other events connected with the recent use of U.S. troops in Cambodia suggest a preoccupation with communication (its presence or absence, its process, and its style) that deflected and obscured the basic issue of the war by defining events in terms of a quasi-theory of communication failure. The cultural and situational bases of such a theory of communication failure as a means of explaining and coping with social problems are explored in this paper; evidence for its use in the Cambodian situation is examined; and its possible consequences are suggested. The role of symbolic reassurance in coping with public uneasiness about the war and the anti-war movement is also examined.
Article
The dismissive attitude of intellectuals toward conspiracy theorists is considered and given some justification. It is argued that intellectuals are entitled to an attitude of prima facie skepticism toward the theories propounded by conspiracy theorists, because conspiracy theorists have an irrational tendency to continue to believe in conspiracy theories, even when these take on the appearance of forming the core of degenerating research program. It is further argued that the pervasive effect of the “fundamental attribution error” can explain the behavior of such conspiracy theorists. A rival approach due to Brian Keeley, which involves the criticism of a subclass of conspiracy theories on epistemic grounds, is considered and found to be inadequate.
Article
Among the most memorable encounters in recent history are those in which one political actor “went meta” to another during a high stakes, high visibility political confrontation. Maneuvers of this sort break with routines by making prior communications the subject of communication. They are thus reflexive reframings. While the potential gains from going meta may be enormous, they may also be quite risky, hence requiring a delicate sense of rhetorical balance. This essay first explicates a general conception of “going meta,” applicable to a wide variety of communicative interactions, and then brings it to bear exclusively upon political confrontations.
Article
In the late 1960s, as Peter readily admits (Hall, 1972, p. 70), he accidentally discovered Murray Edelman’s (1964) The Symbolic Uses of Politics. He immediately pilfered Edelman’s ideas and ran with them. That was only the beginning of his larcenous career. Over the years, Erving Goffman, Anslem Strauss, and David Maines, to name but a few, fell victim to his scholarly pillage. Yet, no one seemed to mind. Perhaps it was because Peter never tried to pawn the plunder as his own. Maybe it was because he didn’t hoard the spoils but publicly plied them. Most likely, it was because of what he did with the booty.
Article
Conpiracy theories are widely deemed to be superstitious. Yet history appears to be littered with conspiracies successful and otherwise. (For this reason, "cock-up" theories cannot in general replace conspiracy theories, since in many cases the cock-ups are simply failed conspiracies.) Why then is it silly to suppose that historical events are sometimes due to conspiracy? The only argument available to this author is drawn from the work of the late Sir Karl Popper, who criticizes what he calls "the conspiracy theory of society" in The Open Society and elsewhere. His critique of the conspiracy theory is indeed sound, but it is a theory no sane person maintains. Moreover, its falsehood is compatible with the prevalence of conspiracies. Nor do his arguments create any presumption against conspiracy theories of this or that. Thus the belief that it is superstitious to posit conspiracies is itself a superstition. The article concludes with some speculations as to why this superstition is so widely believed.
Article
But what if it's all true? The conspiracy industry, with its mostly unproved if not unprovable charges of vast webs of shadowy operatives, secret political alliances and illicit money channels, has been given a boost by recent events. The Sept. 11 attacks provided a glimpse into a world of loosely bound international terrorist cells while inspiring a host of wild charges about the secret involvement of the United States and other governments. The Enron scandal uncovered a network of off-the-books partnerships, and, more recently, the director Michael Moore announced that his next documentary, "Fahrenheit 911," would delve into connections between the Bush and bin Laden families. Mark Lombardi would not have been surprised, as can be seen in "Global Networks," an exhibition of his delicate filigree drawings that map his version of the flow of global capital. The show opens on Saturday at the Drawing Center in SoHo and remains on view through Dec. 17. In these works, solid and broken lines, circles and squiggles enmesh the names of organizations and individuals in webs of often surprising interconnections. One drawing charts the workings of the Vatican Bank, in the process linking its directors to the Mafia and the illegal transport of firearms. Another purports to show how Iraq was armed in the 1980's through a secret scheme supposedly involving the top levels of the American and British governments and Italy's largest bank, the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro. Yet another follows the course by which the Bank of Commerce and Credit, International (B.C.C.I.) was accused of having become a funnel for a variety of illegal operations, including laundering drug money, supporting the Iran-Contra operation and backing Afghan Mujahedeen fighters.
Article
This essay advances the notion that democratic deliberation at its best in the here and now is primarily rhetorical. A "rowdy" rhetorical conception of deliberation, in the reconstructive spirit of the mythical figure of Old Man Coyote, is well adapted to meeting the present conditions of what Chantal Mouffe calls agonistic pluralism. The democratic deficit created in the absence of such a conception is illustrated with reference to the so-called "war" on terrorism following the attack of September 11, 2001.
Article
This paper examines how US TV news on abortion-related protest forecloses possibilities for democracy and political action. Representing abortion-related activism as a battle, news segments portray activists, correspondents, and viewers as villains, witnesses, and victims in a tale of a nation decimated by civil war. While activists describe their work militaristically, the news's war is not the war that activists describe. News discourse represents activists as threatening the American family/community/nation. Applying Hannah Arendt's and Mary Douglas's work shows how the news eclipses public spheres by mapping a pollution narrative onto those who threaten myths of national homogeneity and proper citizenship.
Article
examine the hyphen at which Self-Other join in the politics of everyday life, that is, the hyphen that both separates and merges personal identities with our inventions of Others / take up how qualitative researchers work this hyphen / gather a growing set of works on "inscribing the Other," viewing arguments that critical, feminist, and/or Third World scholars have posed about social science as a tool of domination / collects a . . . series of questions about methods, ethics, and epistemologies as we rethink how researchers have spoken "of" and "for" Others / present discussion of qualitative research projects designed for social change [i.e., against Othering] (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Article
EXAMINING THE "WAYS IN WHICH PEOPLE CAUGHT IN CRISIS SITUATIONS DEVELOP A WORKING ORIENTATION . . ." THE BOOK PRESENTS AN EXPLORATORY STUDY OF RUMORS AS INDICATIVE OF SOCIAL CHANGE. THE STUDY GIVES ATTENTION TO (1) ALTERNATIVE CONCEPTIONS OF RUMOR, (2) THE FAILURE OF FORMAL NEWS CHANNELS, (3) PROBLEM-SOLVING THROUGH DELIBERATION, (4) SUGGESTIBILITY AND BEHAVIORAL CONTAGION, (5) THE FORMATION OF POPULAR BELIEFS, (6) SOCIOLOGICAL THEORY OF RUMOR, AND (7) THE POLITICAL MANIPULATION OF RUMOR. A LIST OF CASE STUDIES IS INCLUDED IN THE APPENDIX. (28 P. REF.) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Article
The purpose of this article will be to outline a symbolic interactionist approach to the study of politics in the United States. In the course of this presentation, the basic assumptions and concepts of the interactionist perspective will be presented, culminating in a model of society as a negotiated order. This model in conjunction with definitions of power and politics will provide the basis for analyzing the processes of power. The article will focus on and emphasize two mechanisms of power, information flow control and symbolic mobilization of support, which have previously been unrecognized and unan-alyzed. In the conclusion, the strengths and weaknesses of the approach will be discussed.
Article
word count= 164) The event of Lee Basham's essay "Malevolent Global Conspiracy" is used to reflect further on the epistemic status of attempts to explain social phenomena by means of conspiracies. After presenting an update on the status of conspiracy theories surrounding the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, I synopsize the philosophical problem of conspiracy theories and amplify Basham's discussion. I agree with Basham that falsification and paranoia are not an effective way to criticize conspiratorial thinking. However, I am not convinced with the case he presents against worries that conspiracy theories often falter by overestimating the ability of large, public institutions to be secretly and effectively controlled. The historical record, upon which much of Basham's argument relies, can be read as suggesting that malevolent global action can be effectively carried out in full public view, obviating recourse to conspiracy. However, all told, Basham has introduced a number of interesting new arguments about conspiracy theories that merit further consideration by those interested in practical epistemology.
Article
This article explores the psychosocial significance of conspiracy theories and explanations from a dramaturgical perspective. Using a modification of Burke's dramaturgical pentad—(a) plot line, (b) directorial assumption, (c) social context, (d) dramatic genre, and (e) dramatic resolution—two variants of conspiracy are presented. Each is available to make sense of group tensions. The dramaturgy of conspiracy theories as a paranoid's story depicts group tensions as a function of the obsessive suspiciousness of a group, which finds a favorable hearing in a quick-fix culture. In this drama, the rationality of the objective and dispassionate analyst is seen as the antidote. The dramaturgy of conspiracy explanations as a viable sense-making heuristic depicts group tensions as a result of the turn to postmodernism. In this drama, rational expertise and the official version of the facts is the source, rather than the solution, of problems.
Book
Most writing on sociological method has been concerned with how accurate facts can be obtained and how theory can thereby be more rigorously tested. In The Discovery of Grounded Theory, Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss address the equally Important enterprise of how the discovery of theory from data--systematically obtained and analyzed in social research--can be furthered. The discovery of theory from data--grounded theory--is a major task confronting sociology, for such a theory fits empirical situations, and is understandable to sociologists and laymen alike. Most important, it provides relevant predictions, explanations, interpretations, and applications. In Part I of the book, "Generation Theory by Comparative Analysis," the authors present a strategy whereby sociologists can facilitate the discovery of grounded theory, both substantive and formal. This strategy involves the systematic choice and study of several comparison groups. In Part II, The Flexible Use of Data," the generation of theory from qualitative, especially documentary, and quantitative data Is considered. In Part III, "Implications of Grounded Theory," Glaser and Strauss examine the credibility of grounded theory. The Discovery of Grounded Theory is directed toward improving social scientists' capacity for generating theory that will be relevant to their research. While aimed primarily at sociologists, it will be useful to anyone Interested In studying social phenomena--political, educational, economic, industrial-- especially If their studies are based on qualitative data.
Article
JFK, Karl Marx, the Pope, Aristotle Onassis, Queen Elizabeth II, Howard Hughes, Fox Mulder, Bill Clinton—all have been linked to vastly complicated global (or even galactic) intrigues. In this enlightening tour of conspiracy theories, Mark Fenster guides readers through this shadowy world and analyzes its complex role in American culture and politics. Fenster argues that conspiracy theories are a form of popular political interpretation and contends that understanding how they circulate through mass culture helps us better understand our society as a whole. To that end, he discusses Richard Hofstadter's The Paranoid Style in American Politics, the militia movement, The X-Files, popular Christian apocalyptic thought, and such artifacts of suspicion as The Turner Diaries, the Illuminatus! trilogy, and the novels of Richard Condon. Fenster analyzes the "conspiracy community" of radio shows, magazine and book publishers, Internet resources, and role-playing games that promote these theories. In this world, the very denial of a conspiracy's existence becomes proof that it exists, and the truth is always "out there." He believes conspiracy theory has become a thrill for a bored subculture, one characterized by its members' reinterpretation of "accepted" history, their deep cynicism about contemporary politics, and their longing for a utopian future. Fenster's progressive critique of conspiracy theories both recognizes the secrecy and inequities of power in contemporary politics and economics and works toward effective political engagement. Probing conspiracy theory's tendencies toward scapegoating, racism, and fascism, as well as Hofstadter's centrist acceptance of a postwar American "consensus," he advocates what conspiracy theory wants but cannot articulate: a more inclusive, engaging political culture. "Fenster, a lone writer (the literary equivalent of a lone gunman, perhaps), segues from the novels of Thomas Pynchon to the Clinton Death List. . . . Conspiracy Theories is a dangerous book. I suspect 'they' (and you know who I mean, of course) will take care of this lone writer any day now."—Bookforum “Fenster makes a powerful argument for regarding conspiracism as an integral product of the political system, reflecting inadequacies the establishment itself is blind to and expressing strong desires for the realization of frustrated ideals. Conspiracy Theories is a fascinating look at an important, little-studied topic. Informative and thought-provoking.� —Philadelphia City Paper "Fenster culls the liveliest counterintelligences out there—the Michigan Militia, religious millennialists, Chris Carter, even Oliver Stone—and sets them up as the last idealists. They might be obsessive and maniacal, but they're after a transparent political system, where big business and the government can be held accountable. Their 'paranoid style,' according to Fenster, is just old-school populism refitted for the media age." —Voice Literary Supplement "Fenster makes a powerful argument for regarding conspiracism as an integral product of the political system, reflecting inadequacies the establishment itself is blind to and expressing strong desires for the realization of frustrated ideals. Conspiracy Theories is a fascinating look at an important, little-studied topic. Informative and thought-provoking." Philadelphia City Paper "Fenster's careful examination of conspiratorial beliefs as evidence by right-wing groups, by various media, and even by those who devise such theories as a form of ludic or satiric endeavor (like Robert Anton Wilson) is revealing. And his articulation of the set of political-rather than pathological-reasons for their behavior is salutary." —American Book Review “Fenster’s extensive and impressive research provided a means of coming to terms with the radical disjunction between the interpretive framework which I used to understand events such as the one at Littleton, and a framework at odds with my own which was now confronting me on a daily basis.� —Canadian Journal of Communication “In this lively and wide-ranging critique, Fenster argues that conspiracy theories are attempts to engage in a more inclusive political culture.� —Religious Studies Review "Mark Fenster has provided a solid and illuminating study of the public's fascination with conspiracy theories and sets forth a stimulating correlation between the popularity of such theories and the social and political values of our society. This is a comprehensive and intriguing analysis of our often obsessive interest in conspiracy theories." —Gerald Posner, author of Killing the Dream : James Earl Ray and the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Case Closed : Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK "I find the issue of conspiracy theory compelling and appreciate Fenster's fruitful approach to what has been mysteriously ignored by the academy." —Barbie Zelizer, author of Covering the Body: The Kennedy Assassination, the Media, and the Shaping of Collective Memory "Fenster shines a powerful light on the fantasies of secrecy that pervade American culture, illuminating both the way they originate and how they work. His analysis is theoretically acute, his criticism of previous scholarly studies is compelling, and he offers razor-sharp readings of an impressive array of movements, events, and cultural practices. He stands out, above all, for his ability to capture the power and appeal of conspiratorial understandings of politics even as he explains their fundamental political limitations. The only thing that can keep this book from having the impact it deserves is a vast, academic conspiracy." —Mark T. Reinhardt, Williams College Mark Fenster received his Ph.D. in communication from the University of Illinois and his law degree from Yale University. He currently lives in Denver.