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Category Archives: Complexity

Peace Framed as Plot?

The apparently democratic character of referendums faces myriad critiques. One of them is the influence that the opinions of voters on other issues, whether or not relevant to the decision at hand, may exercise on their vote in a referendum. As this New York Times piece explains, when confronting complex choices, voters facing either information overload or information deficits might […]

6 October 2016
‘Coalgate’: corruption, an honest bureaucrat and a deeper malaise in India

Nayanika Mathur, University of Cambridge “Corruption. It’s like a demon sitting on my brain and eating it with a fork and knife.” So bemoans a character in the novelist Aravind Adiga’s Between the Assasinations set in India. While it is commonplace and easy to bemoan the pervasiveness of corruption in India, it is harder to […]

23 August 2016
Must a conspiracy always go right up to the top?

“This goes all the way to the top” is one of the great clichés of conspiracy theory. It conjures an image of a group of cackling evildoers hatching a nefarious plot in a smoky room, swearing an oath and then secretly carrying out their elaborate design. In this model of a conspiracy, a small secret […]

2 February 2015
Watch “Anglo-American Conservatism & Transatlantic Threat” talk by Professor Kathy Olmsted (UC Davis)
Watch “Anglo-American Conservatism & Transatlantic Threat” talk by Professor Kathy Olmsted (UC Davis)

Professor Olmsted’s (Professor and Chair of History at the University of California, Davis) talk examines British and American anticommunist conspiracy theories in the 1920s and 1930s. In both countries, former wartime intelligence agency chiefs set up private intelligence networks in the post-World War I era to spy upon and blacklist radicals — and, not incidentally, […]

4 September 2014
Watch “American Conspiracy Theories” talk by Professors Joseph Usciniski (Miami) and Joseph Parent (Miami)
Watch “American Conspiracy Theories” talk by Professors Joseph Usciniski (Miami) and Joseph Parent (Miami)

Are conspiracy theories overtaking deliberative societies, inflaming discourse and degrading democracy? How much more prone to violence are conspiracy theorists? Which political party is more likely to traffic in conspiratorial talk? Has the Internet ushered in a new era of conspiracy-fueled paranoia? Using original data sources spanning more than a century, Joseph E. Uscinski and […]

The Poisoned Chalice of Counter-Revolutionary Conspiracy Theory
The Poisoned Chalice of Counter-Revolutionary Conspiracy Theory

Reflections on the lecture given on 10 June, 2014 by Prof. Samuel Moyn (Columbia): “Is Democracy Conspiratorial?” In the research literature one often comes across the statement that every conspiracy theory contains a grain of truth. Indeed, one finds the statement repeated so often that it has taken on the trappings of a tired platitude. […]

19 June 2014
Communism, Conspiracy, and Surveillance
Communism, Conspiracy, and Surveillance

Why do people believe in conspiracies? This is the way our topic is often framed. It sets the scene for psychological studies aimed at finding out why people would entertain conspiracy theories – the nuttier the better – and, more broadly, how to respond to these dangerous misperceptions, false beliefs and paranoid suspicions. These are […]

8 June 2014
A New British “Dolchstosslegende”?

Following the visit of Boris Barth a few weeks back and his wonderful account of the origins and development of the stab-in-the-back legend in Germany after WWI and its relation to conspiracy theory, this comment caught my eye: A narrative has emerged that ascribes Britain’s military difficulties to a failure by politicians to follow the professional […]

21 November 2013
Conspiracies, Cover-ups and Cock-ups: Watergate Edition

In David’s talk at the recent Festival of Ideas he criticised the false dichotomy between a “conspiracy theory” of government and a “cock-up” theory of government. Conspiracies in democratic governments, he suggested, seem most often to be cover-ups of cock-ups. Thus they often look more like retrospective blame avoidance than a conscious and effective direction of future […]

7 November 2013