Glimpses of Utopia in Contemporary Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theories are now widely associated with paranoia, thanks to Hofstadter’s 1964 publication labelling them ‘the paranoid style’. They seem dark, foreboding and hugely pessimistic; what if a secret cabal really is planning to take over the world and lead us into dystopia? But is there another side to conspiracy theory? For some, conspiracy theories not only offer clarity and certainty in confusing and unusual situations (think catastrophic events, untimely deaths, rapid societal changes), but also give us a glimpse – albeit fleeting – of a better world. In this talk, we will examine how the conspiracy theory narrative provides us with a platform to explore notions of freedom and power, but often ultimately ends up in reinforcing the very power structures it claims to critique. The presentation will be illustrated with examples of popular and lesser-known conspiracy theories.

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After teaching for many years, I decided to embark on a Master’s course and one thing led to another! I am currently researching the language of conspiracy theories. I was struck by how prevalent they had become. There seemed to be something striking about how they were put together that I wanted to get to the bottom of. I analyse how conspiracy theories are persuasive and how they can be replicated. I am particularly interested in helping people understand why and how we believe what we do. In doing so, we can find ways to connect and engage with divergent audiences and, ultimately, understand ourselves better. If you’re interested in reading more, here’s a link to a recent article I wrote for The Conversation.

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