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Conference: ‘Populism and Conspiracy Theories in the Americas’

TÜBINGEN | SEPTEMBER 15-17, 2022

The second international conference of the ERC-funded project PACT: Populism and Conspiracy Theory, titled ‘Populism and Conspiracy Theories in the Americas’, will take place on 15-17 September 2022, hosted by the University of Tübingen, Germany. Keynote speakers will be Letícia Cesarino (Federal University of Santa Catarina), Mark Fenster (University of Florida), Ursula Prutsch (University of Munich), and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser (Diego Portales University).

With the growing visibility of conspiracy theories and the emergence of populist movements and parties around the world, the exploration of possible connections between the two is drawing an increasing number of researchers in recent years. Many populist leaders employ conspiracist rhetoric and followers of populist parties and movements are often seen as 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 US has provided both one of the first and one of the most recent case studies of populism as a movement and in power respectively. Latin America has been a well-studied region with regards to populist governments across the Left-Right political spectrum. More recently, we have witnessed populist heads of States actively engaging with, or even employing, conspiracy theories in their public discourse. From QAnon to micro-chips inside the Covid-19 vaccines to the ‘gay kit’, conspiracy theories have not only left the fringe but in many cases inform government policy. Are there historical connections or ‘elective affinities’ between populism and conspiracy theories? What are the specific socio-political contexts in which populism and conspiracy theories have historically come together in the Americas, and how do these conditions differ from other parts of the world? How can we analytically approach processes of mutual influence and entanglement between North and South America or think about the role of real conspiracies (e.g., US interventionism in Latin America) in fuelling conspiratorial imagination? What has the role of social media been in the circulation of conspiracy theories in recent years? Are they more popular now than in the past? How, if at all, do conspiracy theories inform populist politics from South to North America? What political uses does populist discourse make of conspiracy theories? Can we distinguish between Left and Right populism in their use of conspiracist rhetoric?

The conference seeks to address these and related questions. We are interested in theoretical considerations as well as empirical findings on the relationship between populism and conspiracy theory in the Americas.

Program

The conference program will be published soon. Follow the project’s Twitter page for more updates (@ercpact).