Conspiracy theories and political culture

  • Ciaran Shannon

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This research is into the role of conspiracy theories in political culture. It is an investigation into the various aspects of political belief reflected in conspiracy theories. To research the topic a broadly Foucauldian approach is taken. The 'paranoid style' developed by American political historian Richard Hofstadter which has dominated study of conspiracy theories is criticised and several alternative approaches to the subject examined. I shall argue that conspiracy theories can be divided into three main categories, all of which approach and use the topic in different ways. The classical conspiracy theory, which can be traced back to the early modem period and focuses on the activities of small secret societies or ethnic minorities who are perceived to be plotting to control the world. The counter culture conspiracy theories which emerged in the 1960s and 1970s and which represent an expression of distrust in and scepticism towards government, the media and corporate industry. The final category, postmodern con piracy theories are a more recent development and can be seen as an attempt to use conspiracies as a means of describing and critiquing aspects of the contemporary world.

It is intended that this research will show that conspiracy theories are more than the 'paranoid fantasies' of a minority on the fringes of political life, and can instead be seen as attempts to interpret the social and political world and expressions of distrust of authority , which have become an increasingly common feature of political discourses. In Foucauldian terms conspiracy theories can be seen as attempts to trace, organise and identify the networks of dominance and power relations that shape the world, which since the Enlightenment period have become increasingly faceless.

Date of AwardDec 2006
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorVincent Geoghegan (Supervisor) & Iain Mackenzie (Supervisor)

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