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Conference on Conspiracy Theories and Leftwing Populism

TÜBINGEN | MARCH 10-12, 2022

The strong connection between populism and conspiracy theory has frequently been stressed in recent years. Many populist leaders employ conspiracist rhetoric and followers of populist parties and movements are often more susceptible to believe in conspiracy theories than others. However, the relationship between the two has not yet been comprehensively explored. The few studies (for example, by Paul Taggart or Mark Fenster) that attempt a general theorization of the connection consider conspiracy theories a secondary feature or a non-necessary element of populism. Conspiracy theories, they suggest, occur in many but not in all populist movements. Other scholars (for example, Ruth Wodak or Karin Priester) have argued that there is a special affinity between right-wing populism and conspiracy theory.

The significance of conspiracy theories for left-wing populism, however, remains especially understudied. Do conspiracy theories really occur less frequently in left-wing populist movements, and, if this is the case, why? Or is this a false impression caused by the focus on right-wing variants in the recent scholarship on populism? Does its Marxist heritage “immunize” left-wing populism against conspiracy theories? Or is left-wing populism at least in some variants a conspiracist deviation of nuanced social analysis in that it tends to blame people instead of structures? What is the content of conspiracy theories found in left-wing populism, what plots and groups of conspirators do they focus on? How and in what contexts are such conspiracy theories articulated by populist leaders? What are the parallels to and differences from conspiracy theories in right-wing populism? Might the tendency to conspiracy theorizing be cut across the left/right distinction? The conference focused on addressing these and related questions.

Thursday, March 10
4:30 pmCheck in, Covid tests
5:00 pmConference Opening: Welcome Remarks by Michael Butter
5:30 pmKeynote by Kirk Hawkins (Brigham Young University):
“The Irrationality of Populism”
Chair: Michael Butter (University of Tuebingen)
7:00 pmReception and Catered Dinner
Friday, March 11
9:00 amCheck in, Covid tests
9:30 amPanel 1: Further Theorizing the Relationship between Leftwing Populism and Conspiracy Theory
Chair: Katerina Hatzikidi (University of Tuebingen)
Grigoris Markou (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki): “Populism and Conspiracy Theory: Two Distinct Phenomena”
Helge Petersen (University of Glasgow) and Hannah Hecker (Fritz Bauer Institute): “On the Elective Affinity between Post-Marxism, Left-Wing Populism and Conspirational World Views”
10:30 amCoffee Break
11:00 amPanel 2: Conspiracy Theories and Populism in Europe I: Germany
Chair: Johannes Großmann (University of Tuebingen)
Nina Pilz (University of Greifswald): “The Invention of a Pandemic: Conspiracy Theory Reasoning in the German Left-Wing Newspaper ‘Demokratischer Widerstand’”
Leo Roepert (University of Hamburg): “Conspiracy Myths in the Aufstehen-Movement”
12:00 pmCatered Lunch
1:30 pmPanel 3: Conspiracy Theories and Populism in Europe II: France and Italy
Chair: Giacomo Loperfido (University of Tuebingen)
Pierre France (Orient-Institut Beirut): “From Ordinary Leftists to Conspiracy Militancy, and Back Again – The Case of 9/11 ‘Alternative Theories’ in France”
Giovanna Parmigiani (Harvard Divinity School): “’As Above, so Below’ – Conspiracism and Environmentalism in Southern Italy: The Case of Xylella Fastidiosa”
2:30 pmCoffee Break
3:00 pmPanel 4: Conspiracy Theories and Populism in Europe III: Romania, Croatia, and Greece
Chair: Lili Turza (University of Tuebingen)
Onoriu Colăcel (Ștefan cel Mare University of Suceava): “Left-Wing Populism in Romanian-Language News and Opinion: Exposing Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories”
Nebojša Blanuša (University of Zagreb): “People-Centrism, Anti-Elitism, and Manicheism: Their Left-Wing and Right-Wing Articulations in Conspiracism in Croatia”
Vera Tika (Panteion University): “Between Conspirational and Populist Thinking in Left-Wing Parties: SYRIZA Political Discourse in and out of the Government (2015-2019)”
4:30 pmCoffee Break
5:00 pmKeynote by Clare Birchall (King’s College London):
“Haute Baroque Bling: Style, Taste and Distinction in the Study of Conspiracist Populism”
Chair: Michael Butter (University of Tuebingen)
6:30 pmDinner (individually organized)
Saturday, March 12
8:30 amCheck in, Covid tests
9:00 amPanel 5: “Conspiracy Theories and Populism in Islamic Countries”
Chair: Constanze Jeitler (University of Tuebingen)
Turkay Salim Nefes (Spanish National Research Council / University of Oxford): “A Weberian Perspective on the Curious Leap: Conspiracy Theory Beliefs from the Left to the Right Populism in Turkish Politics
Helen Murphey (University of St. Andrews): “Conspiracy Theory and the Muslim Brotherhood – a Left-Right Convergence?”
Tarek Kahlaoui (Mediterranean School of Business): “Conspiracism as Populism’s Main Argument: Tunisia’s Leftwing Populists’ Case”
10:30 amCoffee Break
11:00 amPanel 6 “Conspiracy Theories and Populism in the United States and the Philippines”
Chair: Olivia Rachwol (University of Tuebingen)
Birte Christ (Justus-Liebig-University Gießen): “The “Rigged Economy” and the “1 Percent”: Bernie Sanders’ Conspiracy Rhetoric in the 2016 and 2020 Presidential Primary Campaigns”
Franciszek Czech (Jagiellonian University in Kraków): “Conspiratorial Tropes in Rodrigo Duterte’s Populistic Rhetoric”
12:00 pmCatered Lunch and End of Conference