Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation proposes an intersectional approach to conspiracy theory research that engages conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists by considering their proximity and affiliations with hegemonic power structures. Against challenges to conspiracy theories based on their lack of empirical legitimacy (Rosenblum and Muirhead 2019) and building on arguments that propound their status as “subjugated knowledges” (Bratich 2008), this dissertation argues that conspiracy theories can be vectors of anti-oppressive resistance against systemic forces that disenfranchise racial, gender, and class minorities. Conspiracy theories are not a homogenous phenomenon; they are particular instances of potentially generative suspicion against powerful forces. The dissertation deploys Kelly Oliver’s (2001) concept of “witnessing,” a form of listening that accepts that there are some truths that are not universally knowable to everyone and works to support the experiences of the person testifying, as a method for discerning the specificities of conspiracy theories. It performs a case study of conspiracy theories in the rap music of Immortal Technique, KRS-One, and Lauryn Hill to highlight how conspiracy theories can be heuristic tools to identify and make tangible otherwise systemic, and therefore often opaque, forms of oppression. An intersectional approach to conspiracy theory research is necessary to distinguish conspiracy theories that intensify and contribute to oppressive structures from those that call attention to and challenge those same structures.
Summary for Lay Audience
This dissertation argues that some conspiracy theories can express forms of oppression experienced by marginalized people. Developing the work of Jack Z. Bratich (2008), the dissertation draws on Kelly Oliver’s (2001) concept of “witnessing,” a form of listening that accepts that there are some truths that are not universally knowable to everyone and works to support the experiences of the person testifying. The dissertation argues that researchers should consider the specificities and situatedness of each conspiracy theory and avoid homogenizing all conspiracy theories as being ‘unreasonable,’ ‘illogical,’ or ‘harmful.’ Instead, conspiracy theories can be used to bring people together to fight oppression. At the core of this project is an effort to distinguish conspiracy theories that call attention to forms of pervasive oppression from those that actively contribute to such oppression. For example, it highlights the differences between the conspiracy theories espoused by Alex Jones and those espoused by the Warao people of the Orinoco Delta in Venezuela who, after experiencing an outbreak of cholera in the early 1990s, drew upon conspiracy theories to make sense of the government’s apathy toward their suffering. While Jones’ use of conspiracies builds his own economic status and maintains a well-established racist, sexist and patriarchal worldview, the theories articulated by the Warao help to express their experience of racism, build community, and expose international neglect. The dissertation advocates for the process of “witnessing” conspiracy theories via three case studies of hip hop artists who explicitly deploy conspiracies in their art. Immortal Technique, Lauryn Hill, and KRS-ONE all use conspiracy theories as effective tools to call attention to structural forms of oppression.
Guignion, David, "Witnessing Conspiracy Theories: Developing an Intersectional Approach to Conspiracy Theory Research" (2023). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 9598.
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