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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.

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Mimesis and Conspiracy

Bureaucracy, New Media and the Infrastructural Forms of Doubt

Michael Vine and Matthew Carey

Conspiratorial thought is one of the hallmarks of late modernity. This article focuses on the wealth of conspiracy theories that crystallized around chemtrails and the Californian drought to examine the genre more generally. It suggests that the particular constellation of certainty and doubt present in conspiracy arguments is a product of the fundamentally mimetic nature of conspiratorial thought, which espouses the contours of the infrastructural environment in which it emerges. In our case, this infrastructural environment is that of bureaucracy on the one hand and the architecture of the internet on the other. Each of these infrastructures helps to shape conspiratorial thought in a distinct manner, and the confluence of the two imparts to the genre its particular flavour.

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The Lithographic Conspiracy

How Satire Framed Liberal Political Debate in Nineteenth-Century France

Amy Wiese Forbes

This article discusses political satire under the July Monarchy. It analyzes how the question of satire's political meaning was generated and framed in the 1830s as debate over abstract rights under the new, supposedly more liberal government of the July Monarchy. Following the Revolution of 1830, lithographic satire became connected conceptually to political conspiracy and was argued to be harmful to the new regime. State institutions, including the police, the courts, and the National Assembly, attempted to understand and define satire politically. The effort to evaluate satire's potential harm to the state shaped French liberalism into a contest between rights to free speech and protection from harm. This process was part of a broader struggle to construct legitimate authority in France.

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Judith Bovensiepen

In Timor-Leste, visions of radical societal transformation and future wealth derived from gold and oil are accompanied by concerns that outsiders might be conspiring to rob the country of its riches, as well as conjuring up dystopian scenarios of sinister plots and future mayhem. Examining national narratives and local accounts, this article argues that visions of prosperity and visions of conspiracy are two sides of the same coin; both are embedded in an understanding that power works in invisible ways. In discussing these visions in relation to the literature on “conspiracy theories” and “cargo cults” (terms that have recently been imported to the study of Timor-Leste), it explores the critical potential of these visions. Whereas the labels “conspiracy theory” and “cargo cult” create distinctions between the “rational” perspective of the West and the “irrationality” of non-Western others, as practices these visions end up collapsing such distinctions by appropriating the power of the outside.

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From the Ottoman to the American Empire

Syrian Narratives of Global Power

Kathleen Reedy

This article examines Syrian narratives of global power, ranging from the Ottoman era to the present day. Despite the country's relatively peripheral status in international politics, the stories of its people always feature Syria as a central figure in global policy and intrigue. When viewed not merely as speculation or conspiracy theories but as a form of speech act, these narratives can be seen as having an effect on relationships between different groups of people in relation to and among Syrians. This 'identity work' allows Syrians to order their own world through discussions of global power and gives them a sense of agency. Thus, 'talking about the powerful' actually serves to empower a local, 'marginalized' population, momentarily reversing the whole concept of peripheralization.

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Chaos, Conspiracy, and Spectacle

The Russian War against Chechnya

Jakob Rigi

During the winter of 1995, I spent time with Chechen and Russian activists jointly campaigning against the first Chechen war, which was then in full swing. They demanded the immediate end to the war as they held rallies and handed out leaflets in public squares, factories, and schools. What was striking in the Chechen activists’ analysis was that they considered the war to be one fought by bandits. In their conception, it was a war between the bandits in Moscow and the Chechen bandits, and they depicted both Yeltsin1 and Dudaev2 as godfathers. They argued that they and the Russians belonged to the same Soviet people and that Chechnya should enjoy autonomy within Russia. They said that plunder was the main motive for war on both sides, and that the war had created its own economy from which both sides benefited. Neither the Chechen fighters nor Yeltsin were motivated by concern for the welfare of their constituent publics. In fact, Yeltsin was simply trying to gain political popularity and divert people’s attention from the misery his neoliberal reforms had created in Russia. More striking was the absence of any enthusiasm for the war among the majority of Russians. The chauvinists were a considerable minority, and most Russians opposed the war. They considered the war to be a domestic tragedy that had been triggered by the opportunistic politics of Yeltsin. Journalists, who at that time could still report freely on the events in Chechnya, harshly criticized the incumbent government (Gall and de Waal 1998).

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Organized criminals, human rights defenders, and oil companies

Weaponization of the RICO Act across jurisdictional borders

Lindsay Ofrias and Gordon Roecker

This article examines how the world’s arguably largest oil disaster, in the heart of Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest, has become a testing ground for new global forms of corporate power and the criminalization of dissent. Following the ongoing “trial of the century” between Chevron Corporation and plaintiffs representing tens of thousands of smallholder farmers and indigenous people affected by the disaster, we look at how the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act has been applied against the affected people and their lawyers to sidestep the norm of international comity and alter the parameters for pursuing environmental justice. Specifically, we point to how the case—and a new crop of cases following suit—has threatened to criminalize the use of “lawfare” as a “weapon of the weak.”

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Enemies of the people

Theorizing dispossession and mirroring conspiracy in the Republic of Georgia

Katrine Bendtsen Gotfredsen

This article connects a specific generational experience of having been dispossessed of former social status and political influence to suspicious theories of conspiracies and hidden connections. Th rough ethnographic cases from Georgia I argue that while acting as an explanatory framework for the personal experience of being economically and politically dispossessed, conspiracy theorizing may also work as an everyday means of reappropriating a morally meaningful social identity through the mirroring of a general form of political rhetoric and power. The theories analyzed in the article draw on socially and culturally recognizable registers and tap into a general atmosphere of suspicion and opacity in which mistrust of official accounts and rhetoric is reasonable and appealing. They thus work as a means of repacking generational and economical marginality into a broader framework that is of concern to the wider community and may be seen to represent an effort of reclaiming a moral high ground and being reinscribed into wider social and national domains.

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Ian Hague, Nancy Pedri, José Alaniz, Stefano Ascari and Silke Horstkotte

Daniel Stein and Jan-Noël Thon, eds, From Comic Strips to Graphic Novels: Contributions to the Theory and History of Graphic Narrative

Barbara Postema, Making Sense of Fragments: Narrative Structure in Comics

Shane Denson, Christina Meyer and Daniel Stein, eds., Transnational Perspectives on Graphic Narratives: Comics at the Crossroads

Mélanie Van Der Hoorn, Bricks and Balloons: Architecture in Comic Strip Form

Thomas Hausmanninger, Verschwörung und Religion: Aspekte der Postsäkularität in den franco-belgischen Comics [Conspiracy and Religion: Aspects of Post-Secularity in Franco-Belgian Comics]

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Jakob Rigi

On 22 October 2003, Michael Khodorkovsky, the richest man in Russia and the director of Yukos, one of the largest Russian companies, was arrested at gunpoint in Novosibirsk airport and transferred to Moscow. A few months earlier, one of his deputies, Platon Lebedev, had been arrested on 3 July 2003. In the months that followed the arrest of Lebedev, the general prosecutor raided the offices of Yukos and Menatep, a major shareholder of Yukos. On 17 October 2003, Vasily Shakhnovsky, a Yukos shareholder, was detained for tax evasion. Another major shareholder, Leonid Nevzlin, was accused of conspiracy to commit murder and fled to Israel. One of Yukos’s security guards was also accused as a culprit in this conspiracy and was imprisoned. The general prosecutor subjected the company to a series of raids and restrictions that led to the decline of the value of its shares and brought it to the verge of bankruptcy by the middle of August 2004. Officially, all of these actions occurred because of Yukos’s illegal economic dealings and tax frauds, but the real reasons were that Khodorkovsky had dared to criticize publicly the president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin; that he had funded rival political parties; and that he had also toyed with the idea of entering politics himself and becoming a presidential candidate. Since the conflict between Yukos and the state is a good illustration of the contradictory relation between state and capital in Russia, let me give a brief description of Yukos’s history.