P048
Conspiracies and conspiracy theory. The politics of the unknown

Convenors:
Joschka Philipps (Swisspeace & Centre for African Studies Basel (CASB))
Discussant:
James Merron
Format:
Panels
Location:
KH112
Start time:
1 July, 2017 at 9:00
Session slots:
1

Short abstract:

How do we make sense of a political world that is deliberately concealed, difficult to access, and yet arguably too crucial to ignore? This panel seeks to elucidate this global concern from different perspectives.

Long abstract:

This panel inquires into politics that are deliberately concealed, the realm of conspiracies and conspiracy theories. The key question is: How do we make sense of a political world that is hidden, difficult to access, and yet arguably too crucial to ignore? How do scholars position themselves in this field where knowledge and power (and ignorance and powerlessness) are inextricably linked? African politics provide a suitable context from where to ask these questions. The plethora of informal networks, unregulated trades, economic and geopolitical interests that intertwine on the African continent, Africa's economic dependence on notoriously opaque extractive industries and its continuous political dependence on donor institutions provide a generative environment for conspiracies and conspiracy theories alike. The panel invites scholars to take different analytical directions on the matter, based on case studies that can stretch from global parapolitics, over Illuminati theories, to small-scale urban rumors and local complots. Both constructivist and political economy approaches are welcome, as are self-reflexive and methodological accounts of how to distinguish conspiracies from conspiracy theories in concrete cases. For the idea is, not least, to reflect as inclusively as possible on the process of knowledge production in a context of ambiguous facts, and on the process of academic and political positioning in a context where research can engender political transparency, but risks getting entangled in the very politics it attempts to elucidate.