Jesse Walker Asks What 'Conspiracy Theory' Really Means


In a paper presented at the Conspiracy Theory Conference at the University of Miami, Jesse Walker argues that the phrase "conspiracy theory" is constantly being stretched and narrowed. On one hand, it is frequently used to describe any apparently fringy thesis, even if the theory does not involve anyone conspiring. On the other hand, when a conspiracy fear exists not merely on the fringe but in the mainstream—from tales of terrorist plots to urban legends about gang initiations—the term "conspiracy theory" is much less likely to be deployed. The result is rhetoric that treats the "conspiracy theory" as something that exists primarily in the nether regions of politics, when in fact the phenomenon appears frequently across the ideological spectrum.