Conspiracy Theories and Theories of Conspiracy
February 24, 2023
Online Zoom presentation
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In recent years, there has been a surge of interest in the study of conspiracy theories, much of it driven by growing concerns about how the recent widespread acceptance of such ideas in the United States is undermining the foundation of our democratic governance. Whether it’s Pizzagate, QAnon, 5G, or vaccine microchips, just to name a few, there is a worry that such beliefs are not only irrational, but potentially dangerous.
However, this is hardly the first time that such ideas have gained salience in American politics. In fact, as Richard Hofstadter noted sixty years ago, American politics has always been home to a certain strain of “paranoid style” arguments. Similarly, the study of these conspiracy theories also has a long history as well, one that spans a wide array of disciplines and methodological approaches. For decades, historians, philosophers, political scientists, psychologists, anthropologists, and many others have wrestled with a series of fundamental and often intractable questions about the role conspiracy plays in our politics.
Why do people believe in seemingly absurd conspiracy theories? Should we dismiss all conspiracy theories as unreasonable or irrational? What does it mean to label something a “conspiracy theory” in the first place? Is there a danger in the widespread acceptance of conspiracy theories? What about the danger in dismissing them? Previous generations of scholars and researchers found these questions to be more challenging than they may seem at first glance. By looking back to the past, perhaps we can glean some insight from their work that will help us make sense of our world today.
This presentation will be offered on Zoom only beginning at noon. You will receive the Zoom link the day before the event.
This event is free and open to the public.
Jamie McKown is the Wiggins Chair of Government and Polity and Associate Academic Dean at College of the Atlantic. He has been teaching and writing about conspiracy theories and their role in American political history for the past 20 years, dating back to his graduate student days. Prior to teaching at College of the Atlantic, Dr. McKown was a visiting professor at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. He also previously worked as a college debate coach as well as a political campaign adviser and consultant. He holds a BA in Political Science from Emory University, an MA in Political Communication from Georgia State, and a PhD in Rhetoric from Northwestern University.
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