WORKING GROUP 1: MANIFESTATIONS AND MEDIA
Chair Clare Birchall (King’s College London, United Kingdom)
VC 1 Massimo Leone (University of Turin, Italy)
VC 2 Estrella Gualda Caballero (University of Huelva, Spain)
This working group studies the manifestations and modes of transmission of conspiracy theory in different historical and cultural contexts.
Project questions for WG1
a) What counts when and where as a conspiracy theory?
WG1 will produce a typology of the manifestations of conspiracy theory in different historical and cultural contexts, in order to reach conclusions on the definition of a conspiracy theory. Little is known about the history of the term itself, and the political consequences of the designation of conspiracy theory as an identifiable object of inquiry: does conspiracy theory only become an identifiable epistemological category when it comes to be thought of as a social problem? There is also a lack of research on the concept of ‘conspiracy’ and its relation to cognate terms, both in English and other languages, and to changing legal definitions of conspiracy. This WG will therefore examine how notions of what counts as a conspiracy – and therefore what counts as a conspiracy theory – have changed over time and in different cultural and political contexts.
(b) How do the style, content and function of conspiracy theories vary over time and place?
WG 1 will investigate how conspiracy theory relates to other phenomena such as rumour, urban legend and religious belief, and whether it is becoming more or less legitimised as a form of knowledge. It will consider whether the structure, content and function of conspiracy theories have remained constant over time, and whether they take on a different guise in varying political systems and media regimes. WG 1 will anatomise the images, metaphors and narrative structures that contribute to conspiracy theories, and whether these remain constant or vary over time and as they are translated from one cultural context to another. How, for example, do conspiracist accounts of the EU differ according to the national context, and what do they have in common? WG 1 will also determine what difference the embodiment of conspiracy theories in fictional or nonfictional genres makes, and the relationship between conspiracy theories that originate among elites and those that emerge from popular entertainment culture.
(c) How are conspiracy theories transmitted? What difference does the Internet make?
WG 1 will advance research on the different genres in which conspiracies have been imagined (e.g. plays, novels, pamphlets, sermons). It will develop an approach that is comparative in period and place to consider how conspiracy ideas have been enabled by the development of different media, including sermons, books, newspapers, radio, film and television, all the way through to contemporary digital forms of communication such as websites, blogs and social media. In particular, the WG will focus on the question of what difference new media technologies make to the creation and dissemination of conspiracist ideas and social networks of belief. It will also consider the extent to which the very architecture of the Internet shapes contemporary conspiracy culture: does the ease of creating associative links and weaving together existing documents push conspiracy theories to ever more complex and integrative forms?