Stef Aupers (IMS KU Leuven) and his colleague Jaron Harambam (Erasmus University Rotterdam) have published a paper on the self-understanding of conspiracy theorists in Cultural Sociology.
Despite their popularity and normalization, the public image of conspiracy theory remains morally tainted. Academics contribute by conceiving of conspiracy theorists as a coherent collective: internal variety is sacrificed for a clear external demarcation. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in the Netherlands, we explore variation in the conspiracy milieu through people’s own self-understanding. More particularly, we study how these people identify with and distinguish themselves from others. The analysis shows that they actively resist their stigmatization as ‘conspiracy theorists’ by distinguishing
themselves from the mainstream as ‘critical freethinkers’. The trope ‘I am not a conspiracy theorist’ is used to reclaim rationality by labelling others within the conspiracy milieu the ‘real’ conspiracy theorists. Secondly, their ideas of self and other make three groups apparent: ‘activists’, ‘retreaters’ and ‘mediators’. Conspiracy culture, we conclude, is not one monolithic whole, but rather a network of different groups of people, identifying with different worldviews, beliefs, and practices.
The paper titled: “I Am Not a Conspiracy Theorist: Relational Identifications in the Dutch Conspiracy Milieu” can be found on: http://cus.sagepub.com/content/early/2016/09/28/1749975516661959.abstract.