Conspiracists' Longings for a Pure Science

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 10:30 AM
Room: 315
Oral Presentation
Jaron HARAMBAM , Sociology, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, Netherlands
Conspiracists’ Longings for a Pure Science

Conspiracy theories have in recent decades become a popular and widespread cultural phenomenon in the Western world. Although conspiracy theories come in all shapes and sizes, a communality can be found in the challenge  they pose to the  epistemic authority of science. The social sciences have, however, simply conceived of conspiracy theories as bad science, making a parody out of the respectable scientific tradition, but in their moral condemnations these scholars leave unexplained how we can actually understand these critiques. In this article I draw on the ethnographic research conducted in the Dutch “conspiracy milieu” to explore what conspiracy theorists claim about science, scientists and the knowledge they produce. On the most abstract level is modern science critiqued for its dogmatism that excludes deviant forms of knowledge and leaves many terrains of inquiry unexplored. A second line of critique is directed to the knowledge scientific experts produce which in practice is not living up to its a-social ideal of objectivity and disinterestedness. The last strand of critiques then centers around the powerful social position scientific experts have established in relation to outsiders that subordinate laymen and protect their in-group. In sum, what these critiques articulate is a (particular) public understanding of science. Despite a strong critique of science, conspiracy theorists are not against science, but hold a rather ambivalent position: science is at once sacralized for its intentions but profaned for its manifestations. I conclude by showing how these critiques resonate with both with pre- and post-modern scientific understandings of science, and argue how the frailty of modern scientific ideals of the universality and disinterestedness of science paradoxically instigates those critical longings for a pure science that characterize contemporary western conspiracy theories.