Conspiracy Panics

Bratich, Jack Z.
State University of New York Press, Albany
9780791473344 (pb)

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Cover of book The book is a unique contribution to the literature on conspiracy theories. It focuses on conspiracy panics, i.e. moral panics about conspiracy theories. In Bratich's use the concept conspiracy panic refers to the demonization of conspiracy theories as political pathologies. Conspiracy panics subjugate conspiracy theories as an illegitimate form of knowledge. According to Bratich, different ways of understanding and responding to conspiracy theories acknowledge truth regimes of political rationality. He claims that the ways in which conspiracy theories are subjugated can unveil the characteristics of political rationalities that problematise them.

The introduction discusses the concepts developed in the literature on conspiracy theories. Bratich shows that there is not a clear definition of conspiracy theory, and the perception of the concept is dependent on truth regimes. He also underlines the importance of understanding the response of political rationality to conspiracy theories as symptoms of govermentality. Likewise, the first chapter illustrates different problematisations of conspiracy theories that associate conspiratorial accounts with paranoia and political extremism. Bratich claims that these problematisations are ways of subjugating conspiracy theories as political pathologies. In following two chapters, Bratich looks at truth regimes of professional journalism and the ways they subjugate conspiratorial knowledge. In chapter two, Bratich talks about how Oliver Stone's film JFK was seen as a conspiracy narrative and argues that public journalism discourse has legitimated itself by subjugating the film's content. The third chapter illustrates that the debate around online journalism is informed by conspiracy panic and reflects the cultural anxiety about new technologies. The subsequent two chapters investigate the conspiracy panic in Left-wing politics, which understands conspiracy theories as a diversion from real politics and inadequate oversimplification. Chapter four analyses the Left's response to conspiracy theories about AIDS, and chapter five investigates the uneasy relationship between the Left and 9/11 Truth Movement. Bratich proposes that Left-wing activism is diminished by conspiracy panics. He criticises that left-wing activists ignore conspiracy theories' constituent criticism and radical democratic potentials by subjugating them as an illegitimate form of knowledge.

Overall, the book is successful in scrutinising conspiracy panics, which is lacking in the literature on conspiracy theories. It highlights that the social construction of a threat of conspiracy theories functions to legitimate different political rationalities. Bratich mentions that it is impossible to define conspiracy theories and questions definition attempts. He implies that there is nothing we can concretely call conspiracy theories. This might be neglecting the fact that there is already a historically significant conspiracy literature, such as the accounts on Masonry and Jews, which is continuously used in different political contexts. For example, the backbone of anti-Semitic ideology is the conspiratorial accounts on Jews. Moreover, conspiracy theories could be defined as narratives that attribute a hidden omnipotent political agency to particular group/s. This could serve as a working definition on conspiracy theories. In fact, defining conspiracy theories to understand their social significance does not have to pathologise or subjugate them as paranoid narratives. Therefore, while the book is invaluable in demonstrating how subjugating conspiracy theories legitimate different truth regimes, it should be acknowledged that the conspiracy literature is politically significant and could be investigated in its own terms.

Türkay S. Nefes
University of Kent