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Message posted on 27/04/2019

CfP: What do we do about conspiracy theories?

Dear colleagues,

We hope you will find this CFP interesting. It is an interdisciplinary
initiative and we think it might be of special interest for STS'ers.
Circulate freely.

Kind regards,

Ela Drążkiewicz (Maynooth University, Ireland) and Jaron Harambam
(University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

CfP Special Issue and Research Workshop:

What do we do about conspiracy theories?

The role of social sciences and humanities in debunking conspiracy

Conspiracy theories have moved from the margins of public discourse towards
the centers. Many people now use them to make sense of the changing world
and its complexifying social structures (e.g. international financial
systems, global bodies of governance), tragic events (e.g. terrorist
attacks, man-made catastrophes, or natural disasters) or socio-political
and economic issues (e.g. security, migration, resources distribution,
health care). Importantly, this trend is visible across societies and
cultures, transgressing traditional social divisions and classes.
Representatives of political and social elites subscribe to some sort of
conspiracy theory also deploy ‘alternative facts’ to their own political
ends. In spite of earlier assertions that conspiratorial thinking is simply
a symptom of paranoia, it becomes more and more clear that this assumption
is hard to maintain: everybody can potentially engage with conspiracy
theories in some way.

This widespread popularity of conspiracy theories has spurred much interest
from the academic community. The debate has focused predominantly on
analyzing this phenomenon and understanding how the distrust in officially
sanctioned knowledge can be explained? At the same time there seems to be
an assumed expectation that it is the responsibility of researchers to
engage with conspiracy beliefs by debunking them. However, like everything
that relates to conspiracy theories, even the subject of debunking is not
straightforward. An answer to the question whether researchers should
debunk conspiracy theories varies across disciplines and schools, and is
closely related to specific ethical codes of conduct, research
methodologies, and specific approaches to conspiracy theories. While
scholars who study this cultural phenomenon from a non-normative and
epistemologically neutral position might wish to refrain from debunking
conspiracy theories, others who see conspiracy theories as the irrational,
overly suspicious and even dangerous ideas of people who don’t quite
understand what is “really” going on, might lean towards the debunking
stand. Clearly, the question of how we, as scholars, should approach
conspiracy theories appears a divisive element in the burgeoning field of
conspiracy theory studies. That is why, with this special issue we want to
open up the discussion whether it is the responsibility of scholars to
debunk conspiracy theories?

Since (some of) these theories have real world consequences (growing
distrust of mainstream media and politics, increasing societal polarization
and hatred towards certain groups, decreasing trust in medicine and
science), this is not a mere academic discussion. Indeed, the question of
what to do with conspiracy theories, and how to engage with people who
propagate them takes on much societal urgency. Can and should we, as
scholars, stay “neutral” in these discussions, or do we have a
responsibility to debunk conspiracy theories and to help diminish their

For this special issue, we invite scholars representing the variety of
disciplines who have been working on conspiracy theories to share their
perspective and experiences on this issue. How should we deal with
conspiracy theories while conducting research, in our analysis, writing and
teaching, but also in our public outreach initiatives? We aim to hear
multiple perspectives from different disciplines and geographical locations
in order to learn from each other and to start a productive substantial
discussion on this highly contested topic. We welcome both theoretical
pieces and more empirically grounded essays, but we invite authors to
specifically consider following questions:

- How is your approach to debunking shaped by your discipline?

- Does the topic of the conspiracy theory (e.g. 9/11, Big Pharma,
aliens, flat earth etc.) that you are working on matter for the position
you take?

- Does the (political, economic, social, historical, cultural)
context in which conspiracy theories operate matter?

- If you argue that conspiracy theories should be debunked, how is
this best done, and how should we deal with the people adhering to
conspiracy theories?

- If you have a different stand, what strategies can you propose for
engaging with conspiratorial thinking?

We intend to have this special issue published in the multidisciplinary
Science, Technology and Human Values journal (
who have already expressed interest in our proposal for the special issue,
but can only guarantee when prospected contributions are out.

In order to facilitate the publication process and foster debate we
organize a workshop which will bring contributors together to discuss and
get feedback on their work. The workshop will take place at Maynooth
University, Ireland on June 28, 2019.
However, if you'd like to contribute
in writing without coming to the workshop, that is possible too. We invite
ALL interested people to submit a contribution (essay/empirical article)
before the workshop. We will give authors opportunity to improve their work
until July 14, after which we will do an internal review. The 8-10 best
contributions will go into peer review through ST&HV, who gave us space for
6-8 contributions depending on size. Participation in the workshop is thus
NO guarantee to be published or even to go into peer-review.

Please submit the title of your paper together with an abstract by the 5th
of May to Ela and Jaron, the organizers of this special issue: and

Please also include information about whether you are available to attend
the workshop.

The funding for this workshop has been kindly provided by the Department
of Anthropology, the Department of
Sociology, the Office of the Dean of
Social Sciences, Research Support Office as well as Social Sciences
of Maynooth University

[image: image.png]

Dr. Jaron Harambam
Postdoctoral researcher at the Fair News Project
Institute for Information Law (IViR) / University of Amsterdam
Roeterseilandcampus, Building A, 5th Floor, Room A5-10
Nieuwe Achtergracht 166, 1018 WV Amsterdam

P.O. BOX: 15514, 1001 NA Amsterdam
Tel: +31 20 525 2140
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