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Category Archives: Conspiracy and Democracy Project

A note on privacy

The standard definition of a conspiracy is ‘a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful’. The first working term is ‘secret’. This then raises the question of whether a collective action is protected by positive or malign secrecy. In the language of our times, secrecy is usually a pejorative term, whereas […]

23 December 2015
How do conspiracy theories relate to non-democratic regimes?

One of the striking features of ‘conspiracy theory’ in the advanced democracies is how marginal it is. Conspiracy theory is a term of derision, and political leaders tend to be wary of being associated with any claims that could plausibly be called a conspiracy theory. The anxious liberals of the 1950s who gave us terms like ‘conspiracy theory’ […]

21 December 2015
Can we distinguish conspiracies from other forms of collective action?

It is not hard to come up with some formal tests that ought to distinguish conspiracies from other forms of collective action. Conspiracies are secret, intentional, malign schemes agreed among a small group of named (or nameable) individuals. A more synoptic test might be that a conspiracy only exists where a secret scheme would unravel […]

19 December 2015
How do conspiracy theories relate to non-democratic regimes?

In their now infamous paper on conspiracy theories, Sunstein and Vermeule write that ‘in a poll conducted in seven Muslim countries, 78 percent of respondents said that they do not believe the 9/11 attacks were carried out by Arabs, the most popular account, in these countries, is that 9/11 was the work on the US […]

17 December 2015
Are conspiracy theories a threat to democracy?

When I began reading around the literature in conspiracy theory coming out of psychology and political science in particular, and certainly in discussions of conspiracy theory in the media, there was what struck me as a lazy and somewhat self satisfied assumption, never really cashed out, that conspiracy theories were undermining democracy. The ‘dangers to […]

30 November 2015
Conspiracy theories, surprises and democracy

What most – pleasantly – surprised me was how it was in fact possible to link conspiracy theories directly to politics. Most of the literature on conspiracy theories I encountered at first analysed it from the perspective of psychology, American studies etc, but the survey work I have been doing with Rolf and YouGov opened […]

24 November 2015
What has surprised you the most in your study of conspiracy theories?

Because I am a historian, naturally I began with a historical view of the evolution of conspiracy theories over the last couple of centuries or so, based on the idea that the broader and wider the public sphere becomes, the more likely you are to get conspiracy theories based on popular suspicion of government, while […]

18 November 2015
New blog series answering the ‘big’ questions

Ever since we embarked on the project, we’ve found that the subject of our inquiry has intrigued people.  Journalists, visitors, academic colleagues and members of the public regularly ask questions like: What’s your definition of a conspiracy theory? What have you found out? Are conspiracy theories bad for democracy? Did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone? […]

Technological Conspiracies

On Tuesday Lawrence Quill gave a public lecture on Technological Conspiracies. It was creative, thought-provoking, and opened with a charming advert for a family robot. We’ll post a video of the lecture here soon, but in the meantime here’s a text of the comments I gave after the talk, where I raised some questions about technology, […]

11 June 2015