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The social bases of conspiracy theories

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In this lecture I elaborate on the social bases of support for conspiracy theories

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The social bases of conspiracy theories

  1. 1. The Social Bases of Conspiracy Theories A L L Y O U N E E D T O K N O W A B O U T … W W W . P E T E R A C H T E R B E R G . C O M
  2. 2. JFK: who’s responsible for his death? Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases? Social bases of conspiracy theories
  3. 3. Is the media controlling what we see? Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases? Social bases of conspiracy theories
  4. 4. Is the media controlling who we are? Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases? Social bases of conspiracy theories
  5. 5. 9/11: who is responsible? Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases? Social bases of conspiracy theories
  6. 6. What is in those vaccinations against the swine flu? Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases? Social bases of conspiracy theories
  7. 7. Are aliens already among us? Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases? Social bases of conspiracy theories
  8. 8. Trump? Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases? Social bases of conspiracy theories
  9. 9. Conspiracy theories in the West •Belief that ‘behind the societal curtains’ evil, malevolent groups are indoctrinating individuals and/ or governing society •“Agency panic” (Melley, 2000) •Three central elements: “nothing is what it seems”, “there is no such thing as coincidence” and, of course, the “truth is out there’” (Barkun, 2003) Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases? Social bases of conspiracy theories
  10. 10. Conspiracy theories in the West Developments…. •Popularizing: from subculture to mainstream (Knight, 2000; Kellner 2002) •Normalization: from irrational pathology (e.g. Popper, 1948) to hyper-rationality (Melley, 2000; Harambam, 2017) •Transformation: from secure to insecure paranoia (Knight, 2000) Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases? Social bases of conspiracy theories
  11. 11. Data CROCUS Survey on Worldviews in the Netherlands III: Religion, Politics, and Anti-Institutionalism. Rotterdam/Tilburg: CentERData. (Achterberg, P., Manevska, K., De Koster, W., Aupers, S., Mascini, P., & Van der Waal, J. ;2012) ◦ N=1,302 ◦ Response rate: 76.1% ◦ Representative for the Dutch population (after weighing) Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases? Social bases of conspiracy theories
  12. 12. Measuring affinity with conspiracy theories Not directly– ◦ Impartial measure ◦ Low chance of variation in affinity ◦ So – asked about people who say stuff about: ◦ 9/11 ◦ Swine flu ◦ Landing on the moon ◦ Death of princess Di ◦ Powerful elites Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases? Social bases of conspiracy theories
  13. 13. Factoranalyse Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases? Social bases of conspiracy theories
  14. 14. The social bases of support for conspiracy theories Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases? Social bases of conspiracy theories
  15. 15. Modernization and its discontents Anomie and Alienation: The twin maladies of modernity (Zijderveld, 2002) Emile Durkheim: erosion of community and anomie Max Weber: rationalization of modern institutions and alienation (institutional distrust) Conspiracy theories: Find meaning and purpose in anonymous systems and events (the truth is out there) Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases? Social bases of conspiracy theories
  16. 16. Cultural discontents and educational level •Elchardus & Smits (2002) – and many, many more studies in the (inter)national research literature: •Institutional discontents and Anomie •Especially among the lower educated! Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases? Social bases of conspiracy theories Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases?
  17. 17. Social bases of conspiracy theories Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases? Higher educated Affinity with conspiracy theories -0,25 Controlled for gender, age, religiosity, income Institutional distrust Anomia 0,28 0,25 -0,13
  18. 18. CT’s as religion for secular people? Disenchantment & Cultural rationalization (Weber, 1978) Conspiracy theories find meaning in just about all phenomena (cf. Aupers, 2012; Melley, 2000). Secular people: Atheists (rationality) Agnostics (not sure) New Age Spirituals (Anti-Institutionalist, things happen for a reason) Social bases of conspiracy theories Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases?
  19. 19. These differences can be explained away by anomie and institutional distrust Mean affinity with ct’s N Agnostic 2,02 239 Atheists 1,77 292 Spiritual believers 2,03 444 Traditional believers 1,88 225 F 8,06*** 1200 Social bases of conspiracy theories Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases?
  20. 20. Boosting educational conflicts? Agnostic Atheists Spiritual believers Traditional believers Education -0,20** -0,15* -0,22** -0,13 n.s. Mean score affinity for lower educated 2,21 1,98 2,23 1,92 Mean score affinity for higher educated 1,81 1,60 1,84 1,74 Social bases of conspiracy theories Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases?
  21. 21. Affinity with political background Three major findings: 1. Non-voter are more likely to support conspiracy theories (Olliver & Wood, 2014 ) ◦ Experimental evidence by Jolley and Douglas (2014) Social bases of conspiracy theories Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases?
  22. 22. Affinity with political background Three major findings: 2. Right-wing voters will on average support conspiracy theories more ◦ Voter for Republicans will support these theories more than republicans(Olliver & Wood, 2014) Social bases of conspiracy theories Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases?
  23. 23. Affinity with political background Three major findings: 3. Supporters for populist rightist and - leftist parties will support conspiracy theories more ◦ Van Prooijen et al. (2014) extremist ideology ◦ Krouwel & Van Prooijen (2014) Dutch PVV and Socialist Party voters Social bases of conspiracy theories Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases?
  24. 24. Mechanism 1 Cultural discontents: ◦ Anomie (Srole, 1956) – feeling threatened by the complexities of the contemporary social and cultural order ◦ Politics: ◦ Lower turnout rates among anomic people (McDill, 1962; Erbe, 1964; Hövermann et al., 2014) ◦ Vote more for Republicans (Templeton, 1966) and for Populist Rightist parties (Arzheimer, 2011; Houtman and Achterberg, 2010). ◦ Conspiracy theories: ◦ Cultural Rationalization (Weber, 1963 [1922]) ◦ Strong relationships: (Abalakina‐Paap et al., 1999, Van Prooijen et al, 2015) Social bases of conspiracy theories Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases?
  25. 25. Mechanisms 2 and 3 Institutional distrust: ◦ Politics: ◦ Lower turnout rates among those with higher levels of institutional distrust (Karp & Banducci, 2008) ◦ Vote more for off-centre political parties (Mair, 1999, Lau, 1985; Achterberg & Mascini, 2013) ◦ Conspiracy theories: ◦ Institutional order is always criticised (Knight, 2000, Melley, 2000) Institutional knowledge: ◦ Politics: ◦ People with less knowledge: less engaged and lower turnout (Galston 2001; Larcinese, 2007) ◦ No clear connection to rightist of leftist voting behavior ◦ Conspiracy theories: ◦ It can be argued otherwise, but: Stempel et al. (2007): Those with less knowledge, believe more. Social bases of conspiracy theories Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases?
  26. 26. Mechanism 4 Egalitarianism: ◦ Politics: ◦ Vote more for Democrats (Houtman et al. 2008) and for Populist Leftist parties (Achterberg & Houtman, 2006). ◦ Conspiracy theories: ◦ are generally focused on evil elites that operate within modern politics, democracies, but also within modern corporations ◦ Historical evidence: communism associated with strong fear of conspiracies (Van Prooijen et al, 2015) Social bases of conspiracy theories Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases?
  27. 27. Results NL Social bases of conspiracy theories Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases?
  28. 28. In conclusion Modernity related discontents - anomie and institutional distrust very important! Explains why: Lower educated… Agnostics… Spiritual believers… Non-voters and extreme leftist and rightist voters… …have more affinity with conspiracy theories! Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases? Social bases of conspiracy theories Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases?
  29. 29. Social bases of conspiracy theories Conspiracy theories? Educational bases? Secular? Political bases?

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