This article aims to reinvigorate analytical debates on conspiracy theories.
It argues that definitional attempts to set conspiracy theories apart from other
theories are flawed. Blinded by the “irrational” reputation of conspiracy theories
and deluded by the workings of institutionalized power such approaches fail to
recognize that there are no inherent differences between the two categories. We
argue that assessments of conspiracy theories should focus not on the epistemological
qualities of these theories but on their interactions with the socio-political
fields through which they travel. Because “conspiracy theory” is not a neutral term
but a powerful label, attention to processes of labeling highlights these larger fields
of power, while the theories’ trajectories illuminate the mechanisms by which
truth and untruth are created. As such, this article offers a way forward for assessing
both the truth and use value of conspiracy theories in the contemporary world.