Author:Lorenzo Urbano (Politecnico di Milano)
Paper short abstract:
In this contribution, I want to argue that conspiracy theories act as a rhetorical instrument for subaltern and antagonistic groups to re-write State-making processes and the history of the Nation-State itself as the product of hidden, occult forces that shape our political and social world.
Paper long abstract:
Nowadays, conspiratorial thinking and theorizing is often seen as endemic in grassroots political discourse. These sweeping narratives of suspicion are usually dismissed by institutionalized actors as pathological, irrational, potentially dangerous.
Through a retrospective on my ethnography inside a local section of Italy's Five Stars Movement, a party on the (fuzzy) border between political and civil society, I want to argue that far from being political delirium, conspiracy theories are an (hyper)rational way of rethinking power relations, hegemonic representations, and narratives by and about the State. In an increasingly globalized context, in which the power dynamics that shape everyday life are virtually impossible to read by single individuals, conspiracism re-frames the actions of the State as the result of powers, interests, influences that are actively hiding, distracting the larger public by putting on a show to mask their real objectives. Constructing an intricate map of relations, events, actors, conspiracy theories allow disenfranchised groups to rationally "explain" their marginality, their alienation towards institutions and the State itself. Piercing the veil of deception that separates reality from fiction, conspiracy theories aim to expose the modern (neoliberal) State as a fraud.
But there's another dimension to conspiracism about the State, a dimension that operates diachronically, instead of synchronically. If the State is fundamentally a fraud, its entire history must be as well. So, parallel to the explaining of current events is the construction of conspiratorial genealogies of the State, searching deep in its roots for the same signs of deception and manipulation.
L'Etat dans tous ses états/ The state in all its forms [Commission on Theoretical Anthropology]