Research Organisation

The overarching objective of CONSPIRATIONS, is to analyse conflicts over conspiracy theories. 

Project’s regional focus is on Europe, with a special emphasis on the contemporary East–West axis. Our focus is on Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Poland, Estonia, Bulgaria and the EU institutions. 

Analytically we focus on three fields in which conflicts over conspiracy theories come with a particularly strong force:

1) science domain: on the one hand ‘trust science’ became one of the key slogans of the COVID-19 pandemic, on the other, questions about politicisation and ‘corruption’ of science came with a new force. Thus we will ask what can conflicts about conspiracy theories reveal about these frictions? Are we observing the twilight of expert cultures or their revival? What new forms of expertise are emerging?

2) media domain: both traditional and new media are the key battlefield in the conflicts over conspiracy theories. Thus we need to know how people who produce, consume and regulate media deal with the new challenges of the ‘post-truth’ era? What strategies do media representatives and regulatory institutions take in the conflicts over conspiracy theories? How are these conflicts influencing media independence and their role in supporting citizens ability to make responsible, informed choices? And finally how are those issues influencing peoples’ attitudes towards media?

3) political domain: Conspiracy theories are increasingly seen as a threat to liberal democracy, therefore it is essential to understand how are conflicts over conspiracy theories influencing the relationship that citizens have with the state (and vice versa). What can conflicts over conspiracy theories tell us about the ways in which people envisions the state’s role in relation to citizens and other stakeholders, such as NGOs, media, and corporations. 


To allow smooth implementation CONSPIRATIONS work is organised along three interconnected research strands:

The first strand will critically assess the notion of conspiracy theories as an emic category. We will investigate how the assumptions that drive the concept differ between ‘truthers’ and ‘truth defenders’ within a) specific contexts of Belgium, Bulgaria, Estonia, Germany, Poland, Sweden, EU institutions and b) across those diverse European settings.

We ask: how do people on all sides of the conspiratorial divides differentiate between conspiracy theories and legitimate suspicion of power? How do those conceptualizations differ across different regions in Europe?

Our goal is to understand the ways in which people appropriate the term ‘conspiracy theory’. Narratives of doubt and suspicion are not always dubbed ‘conspiracy theories’, but instead might be considered rumour, folklore, urban legends. On other occasions the issue of conspiracy theories are treated as a problem of mistrust or culture war.  In this project we want to understand what changes when people apply the concept of conspiracy theories to describe social phenomena. Understanding these mechanisms is important not only because the category is highly contested but also because its usage initiates specific action. Scholars, NGO leaders and policy makers who are concerned with the damaging influence of conspiracy theories on democratic space argue that conspiracy theories have to be acted upon: defused, debunked, countered. Further, some researchers express concern that the conspiracy theory label can be used as a political weapon, a way to invalidate other people’s claims or limit the freedom of media. It is therefore paramount to understand how people who design (or resist) such interventions understand conspiracy theory, and how they differentiate between legitimate and ‘paranoid’ suspicion of power. 

The second strand will analyse how people on both sides of the conspiratorial divide interact with each other and weather they are mutually constitutive.

We ask: What is the relation between stakeholders involved in conflicts over truth (those endorsing conspiracy theories and those combating them)?

As Pelkmans (2013) observes, the conviction in belief may come from encounters not only with those who share in ‘the truth’ but also those who do not. Therefore, instead of assuming that both sides of a conspiratorial divide are polar opposites, this project begins with the presmise that perhaps they are also mutually constitutive. Following Bailey (2018; 2019), we approach conflicts over conspiracy theories as a competitive process of claim and counterclaim (…) about the way our world is and the way it should be. Thus, the project considers both ‘truthers’ and ‘truth defenders’ not only as active ‘spreaders’ of their visions but also as active ‘listeners’, attentive to the claims made by the other side and calibrating their actions vis-à-vis the (imagined or real) opponent. Analysing how stakeholders on both sides of the conspiratorial divide engage with each other will also allow us to shift attention towards practice, as well as the social organization and hierarchy generating these conflicts and generated by them. It will also allow for a better understanding of the impact that conflicts over conspiracy theories have on civic engagement or political action, an issue that has been overlooked in existing studies of conspiracy theories. 

The third strand of the project will analyse what conflicts over conspiracy theories can reveal about people’s fears and desires in relation to their private lives and the social organisations of their communities during and after the pandemic.

We ask: What messages about their own social contexts but also about Europe more widely do they carry?

Researchers have demonstrated that, while conspiracy theorists appear to obsess about information, in fact they are preoccupied with values (Drążkiewicz 2021; Sobo 2016; Sobo and Drążkiewicz 2021) and are a form of criticism, an expression of disagreement with the status quo, a reaction to societal divisions and changes (Boyer 2006; Fassin 2011). Thus, in CONSPIRATIONS we will shift our attention from knowledge and ‘facts’ to values. We will ask what conflicts over conspiracy theories reveal about people’s commitments to cultural and ideological structures, their collective understandings of what is good and important for them. What is at stake in those conflicts? What desires about social and political organization do they promote? If conspiracy theories are seen as a threat to ‘core democratic values’, what values are anti-conspiracy theory activists defending, what visions of the future do they hope for? If conspiracy theories are committed to crafting dystopian narratives of our times, should we treat anti-conspiratorial views that counter them as utopian? Analytically, answering these questions is important for tailoring better solutions to the diverse challenges that conflicts over conspiracy theories might cause in different settings.



Bailey, Frederick George

2018      The Witch-Hunt; or, The Triumph of Morality: Cornell University Press.

2019      The prevalence of deceit: Cornell University Press.

Boyer, Dominic

2006      Conspiracy, History, and Therapy at a Berlin "Stammtisch". American Ethnologist 33(3):327-339.

Drążkiewicz, Elżbieta

2021      Taking vaccine regret and hesitancy seriously. The role of truth, conspiracy theories, gender relations and trust in the HPV immunisation programmes in Ireland. Journal for Cultural Research 25(1):69-87.

Fassin, Didier

2011      The Politics of Conspiracy Theories: On AIDS in South Africa and a Few Other Global Plots. The Brown Journal of World Affairs 17(2):39-50.

Pelkmans, Mathijas

2013      Ethnographies of Doubt: Faith and Uncertainty in Contemporary Societies: Bloomsbury Academic.

Sobo, Elisa J

2016      Theorizing (vaccine) refusal: Through the looking glass. Cultural Anthropology 31(3):342-350.

Sobo, Elisa J., and Elżbieta Drążkiewicz

2021      Rights, responsibilities and revelations. COVID-19 conspiracy theories and the staste. In Viral Loads. L. Manderson, N. J. Burke, and A. Wahlberg, eds. Pp. 67-88. Anthropologies of urgency in the time of COVID-19: UCL Press.





Page Manager: marsanna.petersenkultur.luse | 2024-03-08