Conspiracy Theory Conference, University of Miami

I’m a bit miffed that not only was I not invited to this conference, but I didn’t even know it was happening. Maybe THEY didn’t want me to know about it… A couple of colleagues were there however, along with a few people who haven’t published on the subject at all yet.

There’s an interesting write-up by Jesse Walker over at reason.com, in which she/he echoes a couple of observations I’ve made about the field myself. The first is that most scholars have moved past the “conspiracy theory = paranoia” paradigm as per Hofstader’s 1954 The Paranoid Style of American Politics, even if the popular press have yet to catch up:

When the conference heard from Peter Knight, author of the seminal book Conspiracy Culture, he recalled that in the ’90s his circle’s “defining mission” had been to overturn the Hofstadterian tradition, with its tendency to pathologize conspiracy believers and to be alarmed at manifestations of public distrust. Listening to the interdisciplinary crowd, he felt on the one hand pleased that the field had grown so large, on the other hand alarmed at how little his group’s efforts seemed to have influenced the work being done elsewhere.

Secondly, the different approaches have different aims and (more problematically) often start with different assumptions. For example, psychological approaches often start with Hofstaderian assumptions. Walker suggests that philosophers generally fail to turn their critiques into research programs, even when the work is the most critically sound. For my money, the answer is a social epistemological approach combining philosophical insights into the construction of knowledge/s and a contextualisation of the broader cultural context from critical social theory. With this approach, the study of conspiracy theories can go beyond looking at “irrational, paranoid” Others, and instead tell us something about how competing epistemés are constructed and maintained.

 

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One thought on “Conspiracy Theory Conference, University of Miami

  1. Kevin Whitesides March 24, 2015 / 3:53 pm

    For my money, there’s probably not one methodological “answer” that’s going to serve as the be all and end all of conspiracy research. Psychological, discursive, ethnographic, communications-based, sociological, etc. approaches will all provide important lenses on the shared topic of interest. I think that if all we can do is find out how competing epistemés are developed and maintained, we’re missing out on a whole bunch of insight, though that is certainly an important piece (and one which I spend a fair amount of my time on), and I think that the psychological sciences are an invaluable (and probably necessary) piece in figuring out exactly how that happens. 😉 The development and maintenance of cultural representations is something that the cognitive sciences have quite a lot to say about.

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