Critical Thinking in Conspiratorial Times

Short description

Conspiracy theories are everywhere. Most people believe some version of at least one of them, and often they are relatively harmless. Indeed, such theories are often fuelled by genuine world events and legitimate grievances. However, many conspiracy theories are rather more sinister, not to mention bizarre, dressing racial prejudices and regimes of domination in more or less fantastical clothing. It is imperative, therefore, to think about conspiracy theories critically. However, while the critical and the conspiratorial can and must be distinguished, they are not easily separated. This course works through these problems, with particular attention to how conspiracy culture impacts upon issues of public policy.

Geographically, the course investigates cases not only in the North American and Western European contexts but also from Central and Eastern Europe, the Arab world, Southern Africa, and elsewhere. Thematically, it covers a wide range of issues but focuses especially on issues of foreign and security policy, as well as those of climate, environment, and global health—for example, with regard to the politics of vaccination.

Overall, then, this course provides a deep introduction to the world of conspiracy theories, while developing critical thinking skills, in the sense of skills pertaining to the questioning of truths, the assessment of evidence, the subversion of appearances, and the making of normative judgements. Moreover, it also encourages students to question what it means to think critically, what sorts of scepticism are appropriate in what sorts of situation, and how progressive political change might require not only energetic and perpetual dissent but also practices of trust and credence.

Learning outcomes

This course:

  • Provides a deep historical and contemporary understanding of conspiracy theories and conspiracy culture, particularly as these relate to issues of foreign and security policy, climate, environment, and global health.
  • Provides the analytical tools for understanding the place of scepticism and heterodoxy in both policymaking and society at large.
  • Familiarises a range of interdisciplinary literatures and debates, from policy studies and political science to psychology and philosophy.
  • Develops an active and creative awareness of the challenges of public policymaking in conflicted political and historical circumstances.