1887

Chapter 4. “Go ahead and ‘debunk’ truth by calling it a conspiracy theory”

The discursive construction of conspiracy theoryness in online affinity spaces

image of Chapter 4. “Go ahead and ‘debunk’ truth by calling it a conspiracy theory”

To help fill in the research gap on conspiracy theorizing online (Varis 2019), this chapter addresses two research questions: the discursive construction of conspiracy theoryness in online affinity spaces (Gee 2005) and the extent to which these discursive constructions are aligned with those previously identified by extant literature, which has traditionally taken a top-down, macro-level perspective, as defining of conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories are essentially social constructs (Butter and Knight 2016). To our knowledge, research to date has not examined how notions of what counts as a conspiracy theory are shaped in a bottom-up manner as knowledge, identities, and associated practices that are subjected to discursive struggle. Online affinity spaces, such as those provided by Reddit and YouTube and in which conspiracy theories are regularly discussed, give us unprecedented access to this process. Our analysis shows how the discursive construction of knowledge is crucially related to the concept of truth and how, contrary to common representations, conspiracy theories are seen – from an emic perspective – as stemming from rationality, reasoning, and deployment of an (albeit sui generis) scientific method. Although committed to knowledge activism, conspiracy theories in our data display a manifest proclivity for eudaimonic and social variables and lean strongly towards the depiction of the agents’ identity (both human and non-human) against whom conspiracy theorists relationally construct who they are.

  • Affiliations: 1: University of North Carolina; 2: Swansea University

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  4. Bale, Jeffrey
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  24. Mendoza-Denton, Norma
    2002Language and Identity. Wiley-Blackwell.
    [Google Scholar]
  25. Paolillo, John
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    2019 “Ergoic Framing in New Right Online Groups: Q, the MAGA Kid, and the Deep State theory.” Tilburg Papers in Culture Studies, paper 224. https://www.tilburguniversity.edu/research/institutes-and-research-groups/babylon/tpcs
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  27. Schreiber, Rita , and Phyllis Stern
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    [Google Scholar]
  28. Swami, Viren
    2012 “Social Psychological Origins of Conspiracy Theories: The Case of The Jewish Conspiracy Theory in Malaysia.” Frontiers in Psychology3: 280. 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00280
    https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00280 [Google Scholar]
  29. Tajfel, Henri
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  31. Uscinski, Joseph E. , and Joseph M. Parent
    2014American Conspiracy Theories. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199351800.001.0001
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  32. Vähämaa, Miika
    2013 “Groups as Epistemic Communities: Social Forces and Affect as Antecedents to Knowledge.” Social Epistemology27 (1): 3–20. 10.1080/02691728.2012.760660
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  33. van Prooijen, Jan-Willem , and Karen M. Douglas
    2018 “Belief in Conspiracy Theories: Basic Principles of an Emerging Research Domain.” European Journal of Social Psychology48 (7): 897–908.
    [Google Scholar]
  34. van Prooijen, Jan-Willem , and Mark Van Vugt
    2018 “Conspiracy Theories: Evolved Functions and Psychological Mechanisms.” Perspectives on Psychological Science13 (6):770–788. 10.1177/1745691618774270
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  35. Varis, Piia
    2018 “Conspiracy Theorizing Online.” Diggit Magazine12/05/2018https://www.diggitmagazine.com/articles/conspiracy-theorising-online
    [Google Scholar]
  36. 2019 “Conspiracy Theorising Online: Memes as a Conspiracy Theory Genre.” Tilburg Papers in Culture Studies, paper 238. https://www.tilburguniversity.edu/research/institutes-and-research-groups/babylon/tpcs
    [Google Scholar]
  37. Varis, Piia , and Jan Blommaert
    2014 “Conviviality and Collectives on Social Media: Virality, Memes and New Social Structures.” Tilburg Papers in Culture Studies, 108. https://www.tilburguniversity.edu/research/institutes-and-research-groups/babylon/tpcs/item-paper-108-tpcs.htm
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    2017 “The Internet, Language, and Virtual Interactions”. InThe Oxford Handbook of Language and Society, ed. by Ofelia García , Nelson Flores , and Massimiliano Spotti , 473–488. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  39. Weinberger, David
    2012Too Big to Know. New York: Basic Books.
    [Google Scholar]
  40. Zappavigna, Michele
    (2011) Ambient affiliation: A linguistic perspective on Twitter. New Media & Society. 13. 788–806.
    [Google Scholar]
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