Conspiracy theory and the critical enterprise

Kevin McKenzie


This paper explores the argumentative work undertaken in talk and text about conspiracy theory (CT), relating this to recent scholarly debate regarding the significance of critical inquiry in the context of developments in poststructuralist and postmodern social theory. We examine discussion of CT as a site where the transformation between deconstructive, depth analytic critique and its opposite, realist claims takes place. Meta-theoretical formulations attempting to accommodate both such argumentative gestures in a coherent program for the pursuit of dialogue are shown to be inconsistent with the nature of argumentation as an undertaking to resolve ambiguity in accounts. The sharing of concerns on which agreement is to be founded are the outcome, rather than the basis, of dialogue, even if such an encounter is pursued on the grounds of shared presupposition distinct from the shared concerns which emerge from dialogue. Discussion concerning CT is a site where the formulation of motivation is made to bear on the question of an argument’s validity in virtue of either depth analytic or realist assumptions.

Quick links
A browser-friendly version of this article is not yet available. View PDF
Abrahamson, M
(2001) Functional, conflict and neofunctional theories. In G. Ritzer and B. Smart (eds.), Handbook of social theory. London: Sage, pp. 141-151. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Arrington, R.L
(2001) Following a rule. In H.-J. Glock (ed.), Wittgenstein: A critical reader. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 119-137.Google Scholar
Ashmore, M
(1989) The reflexive thesis: Writing sociology of scientific knowledge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Ashmore, M., M. Mulkay, and T. Pinch
(1989) Health and efficiency: A sociology of health economics. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.Google Scholar
Beck, U
(1997) The reinvention of politics: Rethinking modernity in the global social order, trans. M. Ritter.London: Polity Press.Google Scholar
Beck, U.
(1999) Risk society. Trans. M. Ritter. Oxford: Polity Press.Google Scholar
Beck, U., A. Giddens, and S. Lash
(1994) Reflexive modernization. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
Berman, M
(1999) Adventures in Marxism. London: Verso.Google Scholar
Billig, M
(1987) Arguing and thinking: A rhetorical approach to social psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Blair, T
(1998) The Third Way: New politics for the new century. London: Fabian Society.Google Scholar
Brown, R.H., and D. Goodman
(2001) Jürgen Habermas' theory of communicative action: An incomplete project. In G. Ritzer and B. Smart (eds.), Handbook of social theory. London: Sage, pp. 201-216. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Burke, P
(1993) The art of conversation. Cambridge: Polity Press.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Calhoun, C., and J. Karaganis
(2001) Critical Theory. In George Ritzer and Barry Smart (eds.), Handbook of social theory. London: Sage, pp. 179-200. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Callinicos, A
(2003) An anti-capitalist manifesto. Oxford: Polity Press.Google Scholar
(2001) Against the Third Way: An anti-capitalist critique. Oxford: Polity Press.Google Scholar
Chomsky, N
(1992)  Deterring democracy . London: Vintage. Google Scholar
Clayman, S., and J. Whalen
(1988) When the medium becomes the message: The case of the Rather-Bush encounter. Research on Language and Social Interaction 22: 214-272. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Edwards, D
(1997) Discourse and cognition. London: Sage.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Fisher, Alec
(2004) The Logic of Real Arguments. Second edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Garfinkel, H
(1967) Studies in Ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.  BoPGoogle Scholar
(2002)  Ethnomethodology's Program: Working Out Durkheim's Aphorism , ed. A. Rawls. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Giddens, A
(1984) The constitution of society: Outline of the theory of structuration. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
(1994) Beyond Left and Right: The future of radical politics. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
(2002) Runaway world: How globalization is shaping our lives.New edition>. London: ProfileBooks.Google Scholar
Horkheimer, M., and T. Adorno
(1972) Dialectic of enlightenment. New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
Hutchby, I., and R. Wooffitt
(1998) Conversation analysis: Principles, practices and applications. Cambridge: Polity Press.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Jayussi, L
(1984) Categorization and the moral order. Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
Jefferson, G
(1985) An exercise in the transcription and analysis of laughter. In T.A. van Dijk (ed.), Handbook of discourse analysis, vol. III: Discourse and dialogue. London: Academic Press, pp. 25-34.Google Scholar
Lash, S., B. Szerszynski, and B. Wynne
(eds.) (1996) Risk, environment and modernity: Towards a new ecology. London.Google Scholar
Latour, B
(1981) Insiders & outsiders in the sociology of science; or, how can we foster agnosticism? In Knowledge and society: Studies in the sociology of culture past and present, vol. 3. London: JAI Press Inc., pp. 199-216.Google Scholar
(1993) We have never been modern. Trans. C. Porter. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf.Google Scholar
(1999) Pandora's hope: Essays on the reality of science studies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
(2000) When things strike back: A possible contribution of `science studies' to the social sciences. British Journal of Sociology 51.1: 107-123. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
(2004a) Why has critique run out of steam? From matters of fact to matters of concern. Critical Inquiry 30: 225-247. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
(2004b) Politics of nature: How to bring the sciences into democracy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Mahajan, R
(2003) Full spectrum dominance: U.S. power in Iraq and beyond. New York: Seven Stories Press.Google Scholar
McKenzie, K.G
(1998) In the Gulf between prejudice and culture: Talking the experience of Westernexpatriates in the Middle East. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Loughborough University.
McKenzie, K
(2001) Fact and the narratives of war: Produced undecidability in accounts of armed conflict. Human Studies 24.3: 187-209. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
in submission) The institutional provision for silence: On the evasive nature of politicians' answers to reporters' questions. Journal of Language and Politics.
McKenzie, K., and T. van Teeffelen
(1993) Taking the higher ground between West and Middle East: The discursive achievement of meta-perspective in representations of the Arab Other. Pragmatics 3.3: 305-331.  BoP CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Osborne, T., and N. Rose
(1999) Do the social sciences create phenomena?: The example of public opinion research. British Journal of Sociology 50.3: 367-396. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Palast, G
(2003) The best democracy money can buy: The truth about corporate cons, globalization, and high-finance fraudsters. Revised American edition. New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
Parenti, M
(2003) Rulers of the planet: Why US leaders intervene everywhere. Global Dialogue 5.1-2: 91-104.Google Scholar
Pollner, M
(1987) Mundane reason: Reality in everyday and sociological discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Potter, J
(1996) Representing reality: Discourse, rhetoric and social construction. London: Sage. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Potter, J., and I. Litton
(1985) Some problems underlying the theory of social representations. British Journal of Social Psychology 24: 81-90. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Sacks, H
(1992)  Lectures on conversation, volumes I & II , ed. G. Jefferson. Oxford: Blackwell.
Sacks, H., E.A. Schegloff, and G. Jefferson
(1974) A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation. Language 50.4: 696-735. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Schegloff, E.A
(1988) From interview to confrontation: Observations of the Bush/Rather encounter. Researchon Language and Social Interaction 22: 215-240. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Smith, D
(1978) K is mentally ill: The anatomy of a factual account. Sociology 12: 23-53. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Van Eemeren, F.H., and R. Grootendorst
(1987) Fallacies in pragma-dialectical perspective. Argumentation 1: 283-301. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
(1992) Argumentation, communication, and fallacies: A pragma-dialectical perspective. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Walton, D
(1992) The place of emotion in argument. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State UniversityPress.Google Scholar
Walton, D.N
(1996) Argumentation schemes for presumptive reasoning. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence ErlbaumAssociates.Google Scholar
Weltman, D
(2004) Political identity and the Third Way: Some social-psychological implications of the current anti-ideological turn. British Journal of Social Psychology 43: 83-98. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Winch, P
(1958) The idea of a social science and its relation to philosophy. Second edition. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Wittgenstein, L
(1967) Zettle, ed. G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H. von Wright, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar