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.

 

News in Brief

It’s been a pretty busy time for me of late. I’m just back (and recovering) from the British Sociological Association’s Sociology of Religion Study Group (SOCREL)’s annual conference, which this year was held in Durham. As well as a few recordings for the Religious Studies Project, I presented a paper entitled Body Bags and Seed Banks: A Material Approach to Conspiracist Apocalypticism as part of the panel Materiality, Secrecy and the End of the World with Joseph Webster and Timothy Jenkins of Cambridge University. Great fun and very interesting; Joe I’ve known for a while, and I consider him a very talented anthropologist, and Tim I met for the first time, but hope to talk more with him in future. I may work the paper up for publication later.

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The conference also gave me the opportunity to see my latest publication “in the wild” – “(Always) Living in the End-Times: The Rolling Prophecy of the Conspiracist Milieu” in the INFORM/Ashgate volume Prophecy in the New Millennium.

Conference and RSP aside, publications have been the major reason why I’ve been so busy in the last couple of months. A paper on David Icke will be coming out in the next issue of the International Journal for the Study of New Religions, and I’ve also been preparing a long paper on Whitley Strieber for Nova Religio. I have one more conference in May, but from now until September, I’ll be concentrating on my PhD. The next chapter – on David Icke – needs to be finished this month.