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Mathijs Pelkmans

The renewed relevance of religion in post-Soviet public spheres has been accompanied by conspicuous and controversial conversion processes. This article compares cases of conversion on the Muslim-Christian frontier in Kyrgyzstan and in Georgia. It argues that the notions of boundary and frontier are essential to construct a more dynamic model for understanding 'spiritual' movement in social contexts that are rapidly changing. This approach in turn sheds light on the roles and the nature of social and cultural boundaries in the contemporary world.

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Mathijs Pelkmans

This essay reviews the revolutionary situations that recently emerged in the post-Soviet world, focusing on the 'Tulip Revolution' in Kyrgyzstan. Observers were quick to explain this revolution in terms of democratic resistance to authoritarianism. This view is particularly problematic given that Kyrgyzstan was among the 'fast reformers' in the region and made its name as an 'island of democracy'. Instead of assuming that problems started when the country digressed from the ideals of liberal democracy, this essay argues that democratic reform and market-led development generated both the space and motivations for revolutionary action. Democratic reforms created the possibility of political dissent, while neo-liberal policies resulted in economic decline and social dislocations in which a temporary coalition between rural poor and dissenting political leaders was born.

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Mathijs Pelkmans and Rhys Machold

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.