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Truth, “Conspiracy Theorists”, and Theories: An Ethnographic Study of “Truth-Seeking” in Contemporary Britain

TOSELAND, NICHOLAS,RONALD,EDWIN (2019) Truth, “Conspiracy Theorists”, and Theories: An Ethnographic Study of “Truth-Seeking” in Contemporary Britain. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



This thesis is an ethnographic study of a culture comprised of real-life “conspiracy theorists” living in contemporary Britain, based on fieldwork undertaken in 2014-2016. Within much popular and academic discourse, “conspiracy theorist” is a pejorative label that invokes a delusional person who subscribes to distortive, dangerous, and disempowering ideas; these assumptions are justified by viewing such ideas as unwarranted knowledge-claims. This thesis challenges these assumptions by turning instead to a cultural context in which such ideas are fully warranted, using a multi-sited method of participant observation and interviewing to provide a qualitative study of the so-called “Truth Movement”. While this “movement” is shown to lack formal status or structure, I argue that the (un-)likeminded affiliates of this uneasy collective are united by a shared orientation of “truth-seeking”. Across three separate sites, “truth-seekers” wrestle with common ideas, discovering empowering truths amidst a wider world they commonly perceive as conspired by a hidden, malign elite. Interviews reveal what this world looks like from the insider perspective, including the “waking up” narratives of conversion into this subjectively-plausible alternative outlook. In the chapter focussing on alternative health, I argue that “conspiracy theories”, and potential solutions, are embodied in everyday experiences and practices. I investigate the significance of “false-flag” theories about the 9/11 attacks for modern truth-seekers. The internal conflicts of the truth movement are explored in the more contentious fields of the “flat earth” theories, and “freeman” theories about the legal system, where I argue that these topics reveal the essential attraction of contemporary “conspiracy theory”: the recurring affirmation of the sacred character of humankind.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Conspiracy Theory; David Icke; Spirituality; alternative science; occulture; cultic milieu; conversion; social network; sociology of knowledge
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Theology and Religion, Department of
Thesis Date:2019
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:07 Jun 2019 09:54

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