This piece intends to discuss on theoretical and conceptual boundaries of conspiracy theories as well as reviewing of methodological concerns. Considering this structure of discussion, the current study consists of three main parts. In the first part, how historical and discursive approach view conspiracy theories by questioning a chance to use these two approaches along with each other. After reviewing this content-related part, it is going to be discussed thereby the role of analyzing discursive similarities in understanding conspiracy theories. Having that picture in mind, the last part presents a comprehensive analysis including a few remarkable degrees of similarities among different conspiracy theories to understand the weaknesses and strengths of these diverse philosophical and methodological approaches in the literature. Overall, one might say that this short paper would be an opening remark for conspiracy theories within the bounds of Cultural Studies.
- Historical and Discursive Approaches to Conspiracy Theories
Understanding the relations of historical and discursive approaches to conspiracy theories demanded a basic conceptual and theoretical groundwork about these theories. Therefore, before discussing how one might position these two different approaches to get along with each other, we need to provide some explanatory knowledge about conspiracy theories.
Due to the limitations of this paper, it would be not possible to include each of the definitions of conspiracy theories. Instead of this, it is possible to mention some common characteristics of them. The existing literature on conspiracy theories is extensive and particularly focuses on whether something might be called as a conspiracy or not, rather than proposing theoretical argumentation until some academic attempts to study this topic, such as Keeley (1999). In his study, Keeley (1999: 116) described conspiracy theories as “a proposed explanation of some historical event (or events) in terms of the significant casual agency of a relatively small group of persons- the conspirators- acting in secret”.
How Keeley approached conspiracy theories is a valuable contribution to the existing literature on these theories. It does not solely relate to the fact that Keeley was the first scholar coined the term, but rather, he proposes three layers of conspiracy theories. At first, conspiracy theories are embedded in history. Secondly, there are small groups of persons whose aims would be as malignant and evil. Lastly, these allegedly malignant groups would act in secret. In follow up to Keeley’s approaches, it would be easy to see the rising popularities of conspiracy theories. As Pelkmans and Machold (2011: 66) claimed, “…the object of conspiracy theories is secrecy; it is in their nature to attract popular attention”. However, the notions of secrecy and curiosity are not one and only reason for this presumable popularity. Keeley (1999: 124) claims that conspiratorial worldview offers us a comfort zone by saying that “…while tragic events occur, they at least occur for a reason, and that the greater the event, the greater and more significant the reason”.
When it comes to differentiating historical and discursive approaches to conspiracy theories, it is important to specify how these approaches have words for conspiracy theories. As relates to this, historical approaches refer to the understanding of social and political events or issues as taken for granted, which is a kind of reductionist way of thinking. Putting conspiracy theories into a historical approach, one might say that this approach tends to see them as theories, which are unique for particular phases or locations. Obviously, there are several other interpretations of the nexus between historical approach and conspiracy theories.
From another point of view, the discursive approach is about the construction of what we know rather than how we know, as human-agents. Discursive approach alludes to the implementation of language that embedded in a social practice as well as settled versions of construction of the set of knowledge that we have. As divergent from historical approaches to conspiracy theories, discursive perspective corresponds conspiracy theories as reconstructed practices in a society with some political and social underpinnings. Said differently, discursive approaches vies conspiracy theories as rebuilding narratives in different forms. Overall, this paper believes that historical and discursive approaches might not get along with each other because of methodological and ontological concerns that they applied. It does not mean that these are completely apart from each other, but rather, it means that there are some contradictions, which relate to conspiracy theories.
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