Conspiracy Narratives in contemporary society

2017-03-01T04:33:54Z (GMT) by Ulbrick, Nicholas
ABSTRACT “We live in an age of conspiracy” says Don DeLillo (1989). In 2014 it seems that conspiracy theories, and speculation concerning the “truth” about major events, has become a popular theme and pastime in contemporary society. From sold out eleven hour David Icke presentations at Wembley Stadium in the UK (as well as his world tours), to the ever expanding radio and television network of Alex Jones in the United States, it is clear that there is more than just a fringe interest in conspiracy theories. In the academic literature dating back to Richard Hofstadter (1964) though, the phenomenon has been cast as a purely pathological or paranoid behaviour. Recent works, such as that of Sunstien and Vermeule (2009), Aaronovitch (2011) and van der Linden (2013) go further in suggesting that engagement with conspiracy theories is not only a pathological behaviour, but a danger both to modern society and one which threatens to bring an end to the “age of reason.” Others however, such as Jane and Fleming (2014) have suggested that conspiracy theories are actually a direct result of Enlightenment thinking, and that they offer a valuable counterweight to modern forms of propaganda. In this thesis I seek to challenge the view that conspiracy theories are a pathological behaviour, and offer instead that in contemporary engagement with conspiracy theories is a form of political resistance that allows the excluded and disaffected a political voice. I also offer that conspiracy theories are best understood as social, cultural and political narratives that are in the words of Michael Barkun (2003) a form of stigmatized knowledge. From this perspective it is possible, I argue, to contextualise conspiracy theories in terms of contemporary political and social issues. Finally, I suggest that conspiracy theories may be a method that is used by those who engage to negotiate social ambivalence as outlined by Bauman (1991). To do this, I interviewed eight Melbournians who were either engaged with conspiracy theories or considered themselves “sceptics.” Each of the participants, shared stories of their everyday experiences with conspiracy theories with me. I have analysed their responses using a thematic narrative analysis and underpinning my research were four research questions: [1] How do people living and working in Melbourne define and use conspiracy theories in their everyday lives?; [2] In my data, are conspiracy theories being discussed (and used) as a form of political action for the alienated and marginalized? [3] Does my data collected conform to the two broad understandings that I have outlined in the literature review (the cultural and psychological approaches)? [4] Following question 3, do my participants engage with conspiracy theories as social, cultural and political narratives that offer a new or alternative means of political resistance?