Mariaconcetta Costantini, Pandemics, Power, and Conspiracy Theories, Critical Quarterly
First published: 10 December 2020 https://doi.org/10.1111/criq.12578
Our culture is awash in conspiracy theories’, Joseph Uscinski recently observed to emphasise the crucial role the Internet plays in circulating a deluge of information and conjectures – including fake news – around the world.1 Sometimes created by powerful elites as parts of top‐down processes of mass control, other times developed by the weak in bottom‐up rebellions that ‘encourage transparency and good behavior by the powerful’, conspiracy theories may fulfil both dangerous and useful functions.2 For this reason, they should be considered in their complexity rather than be easily dismissed as irrational or delusive.3 The epistemic problems we face in determining whether these theories could be warranted are manifold. They include evaluating the risks of a priori dismissal or denialism, choosing between a generalist and a particularist approach, and dealing with the question of ‘secrecy’ – a basic condition of any conspiracy. This latter challenges us by definition: if conspirators manage to keep their activities properly secret, how could we come to believe in their existence?4 These issues suggest that we should be cautious in approaching the current proliferation of theories which, widely disseminated by social media, produce a large variety of responses ranging from total disbelief to blind support.