Conspiracy theories as counter-knowledge : alternative approaches to the current crisis of the capitalist system

Hegstad, Vegard (2014-04)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2014.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The aim of the study is to identify and analyse conspiracy narratives as popular counter-knowledge and as alternatives to leftist discourse and explanations of the contradictions of a capitalist system in a systemic crisis. The study makes a distinction between pathological and cultural approaches to conspiracy theories. While pathological approaches critically assess conspiracy theories as expressions of a certain political paranoia, cultural approaches are more inclusive and view conspiracy theory as cultural expressions of the postmodern condition. The cultural understandings break the categorical link between conspiracy theories and irrationality and allows a further discussion on how conspiracy theories might relate to leftist discourse and its attempts to counter neoliberal hegemonic structures. The approach taken by the study relies on the theoretical framework of historical materialism. Key theories used derive from Karl Marx, along with Gramscian, World Systems theory and critical approaches to global political economy. In the historical analysis that was performed, the understanding of structures in the historical development of the world economy, as well as the role of social forces which lead to changes in these structures were shown to be better approaches for understanding both historical events and the current crisis in the capitalist system. However, even within the opportune movement of an on-going capitalist crisis, the Left struggles to create a consistent counter-hegemonic narrative, and current counter-hegemonic movements, whilst being influential, are not succeeding in being transformative This suggests that leftist discourse fails to address the micro-level manifestations of the contradictions of the current system in a way that appeals to the masses. Accordingly, conspiracy theories as frameworks from which to critique the current global political economy are discussed. It is argued that although conspiracy theories are essentially reactionary, as well as historically a product of the far right, these theories might be understood as allegorical narrative constructs that serve as tools of orientation in a confusing political reality and, as such, the label of irrationality should not be applied without further consideration. It is further suggested that there is a proximity between various critical perspectives and conspiracy theories, although it is not implied that there is an exchange of ideas. It is argued that strands of critical theory and conspiracy theory share certain convictions about how the social world is constructed. While leftist/critical discourse relies on a scientific historical analysis, conspiracy discourses are often categorised lacking in scientific support. Critical theoretical perspectives are therefore suggested as the most effective remedy against utopian and simplistic narratives. While the thesis does not challenge the appropriateness of Marxist/critical perspectives at explaining economic crisis and global inequity, it aims at discussing the popularity of conspiracy theories as, for many, preferable tools of orientation in the present times. While political scientific theories and conspiracy theories are generally understood as in essence incompatible, this thesis attempted to discuss and analyse whether this established view could be challenged in light of recent scholarship on conspiracy culture. The study concludes that Marxist/critical approaches should understand conspiracy theories as alternative counter-knowledge and as popular doorways into major social issues that define global political culture, which could actually complement traditional leftist discourse.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die doel van die studie is om sameswerings-verhale as populêre teen-kennis en as alternatiewe vir linkse diskoers en verklarings van die teenstrydighede van ’n kapitalistiese stelsel wat ’n sistemiese krisies beleef, te identifiseer en te analiseer. Die studie onderskei tussen patalogiese en kulturele benaderings tot samesweringsteorieë. Patologiese benaderinge raam samesweringsteorieë krities as uitdrukkings van bepaalde politieke paranoia, terwyl kulturele benaderinge meer inklusief is, samesweringsteorie beskou as ’n kulturele uitdrukking van die postmoderne toestand. Die kulturele begrip breek die kategoriese skakel tussen samesweringsteorieë en irrasionaliteit en fasiliteer nog ’n gesprek oor hoe hierdie teorieë moontlik verwant sou kon wees aan linkse diskoers, asook laasgenoemde se pogings om neoliberale hegemoniese strukture teen te staan. Die benadering wat gevolg word in die studie steun op die teoretiese raamwerk van historiese materialisme. Die vernaamste vertrekpunte wat gebruik word is afgelei van Karl Marx, tesame met Gramsciaanse, Wêreldstelsel-teorie en kritiese benaderings tot globale politieke ekonomie. In die historiese analiese wat onderneem is, word gedemonstreer dat ’n begrip van strukture in die historiese ontwikkeling van die wêreld-ekonomie, asook die rol van sosiale magte wat verandering in hierdie strukture meebring, beter verklarings bied vir beide historiese gebeure en die teenswoordige krisies in die kapitalistiese stelsel. Nietemin, selfs met die geleenthede wat geskep word te midde van die aangaande kapitalistiese krisies, sukkel Linksgesindes om ’n konsekwente teen-hegemoniese “verhaal” te skep. Kontemporêre teen-hegemoniese bewegings, ongeag hul skynbare invloed, slaag nie daarin om verandering te weeg te bring nie. Dit wil voorkom asof linkse diskoers nie daarin slaag om die manifistering van die teenswoordige stelsel se teenstrydighede aan te spreek op ’n wyse wat aanklank vind by die massas nie. Dienooreenkomstig word samesweringsteorieë bespreek as raamwerke vanwaar en waaruit die huidige globale politieke ekonomie gekritiseer kan word. Die argument word aangevoer dat, alhoewel hierdie teorieë essensieel reaksionêr is, asook histories gesien ’n verregse produk, hulle moontlik verstaan kan word as allegoriese verhaal konstrukte wat dien as middele vir orientasie in ’n verwarrende politieke werklikheid. As sulks, behoort die etiket van irrasionaliteit nie sondermeer en onkrities aan hulle toegedien te word nie. Verder, word daar in die studie voorgestel, dat daar raakpunte is tussen verskeie kritiese perspektiewe en samesweringsteorieë. Daar word egter nie gesuggereer dat daar ’n uitruil van idees is nie. Daar word egter wel ge-argumenteer dat daar elemente van kritiese teorieë en samesweringsteorieë is wat bepaalde oortuiginge deel oor hoe die sosiale werklikheid gevorm word. Terwyl linkse en kritiese diskoers gekoppel is aan wetenskaplike-historiese analise, word samesweringsdiskoerse gekategoriseer as verklarings wat gebrek lei aan wetenskaplike ondersteuning. Kritiese teoretiese perspektiewe word dus voorgehou as die mees effektiewe oplossing teen utopieseen simplistiese narratiewe. Terwyl die tesis nie die toepasbaarheid van Marxistiese/Kritiese perspektiewe, as verklarings vir die ekonomiese krisies en globale ongelykheid, uitdaag nie, het dit gepoog om die populariteit van samesweringsteorieë, as voorkeur raamwerke vir orientering in teenswoordige tye, aan te spreek. Die tesis het onderneem om vas te stel en te analiseer of die algemeen aanvaarde aanname dat politiek wetenskaplike teorieë en samesweringsteorieë essensieel onversoenbaar is, uitgedaag kan word, gesien in die lig van onlangse akademiese werk oor samesweringskultuur. Die studie bevind dat Marxistiese/kritiese benaderings samesweringsteorieë behoort te verstaan as alternatiewe teen-kennis en as populêre ingangspunte tot belangrike sosiale kwessies wat die globale politieke kultuur definieer. In die sin, sou samesweringsteorieë selfs tradisionele linkse diskoers kon aanvul.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/86422
This item appears in the following collections: