Course Instructor: Jordan Haug

Email: jordanhaug@gmail.com

Classroom hours: MWF 2pm-3:50am, CB 202

Office Hours: By appointment

Course Summary

This course will cover:

  1. The political history of conspiracy theories. We will be tracing the histories of conspiracy theories in the United States, but examples will also be provided from elsewhere in an attempt to emphasize the transnational character of some of these conspiracy theories.
  2. The logic of conspiracy theories. We will discuss the epistemological basis of conspiracy theories. This will include a discussion of the psychological and philosophical basis of conspiracy theory culture.
  3. The ethics of conspiracy theories. We will discuss the ethical implications of conspiracy theories, irony, and contemporary post-truth politics.

Course Learning Objectives

Students will learn how to:

  1. Use holistic anthropological insights to identify the functions, motivations, and emotional anchors of contemporary conspiracy theories in popular culture. Drawing from anthropology, psychology, sociology, and philosophy, students will be taught the social science of conspiracy theories during seminar lectures. Readings will be drawn from the most recent and influential studies on the subject.
  2. Critically assess popular accounts of conspiracies in the news. Students will write a research paper that critically assesses a popular conspiracy theory that they are, or were, sympathetic too. Students will also lead online discussions about contemporary conspiracy theories.
  3. Develop critical reasoning skills through their writing. Students will learn how to write a research paper that will identify, summarize, and critique a conspiracy theories.

Required Text (2 books)

  • Brotherton, R. (2015). Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories. London: Bloomsbury [$12 paperback or hardcover, $11 kindle].
  • McIntyre, L. (2018). Post-truth. Cambridge: MIT Press [$15 paperback, kindle, or audible].

Required Films (1 film)

  • Ferguson, K. (n.d.) “This is Not a Conspiracy Theory.” This is a film series in five episodes (1 hr. 12 mins., total). All of the episodes are available for $14.99 at Ferguson’s website. Students will be writing a review of the film’s arguments.

Coursework Standards

Please review Utah Valley University’s “Academic Policies and Standards.” You will be tested on your knowledge of these standards for out of classroom workload per credit hour.

Seminar Readings

Each seminar will have required readings or videos marketed with bullet points. Besides the required text (see above), all other readings will be provided through Canvas. Readings or videos preceded with a “suggested” title are make available only if students are interested in pursuing the subject further on their own. The lectures may draw from suggested readings, but students will not be tested on the material only given in the suggested readings.

Note Taking

Please refrain from using laptops, tablets, or smartphones during class. This is because many studies. have found that allowing laptops, tablets, or smartphones in a classroom drastically effects the learning environment of all students, not just the ones using the technology. Content comprehension and memory retention are also drastically improved if you use a pen or pencil and a simple pad of paper to take notes on during class seminars. You will be tested on the content discussed in the following videos.

If you are unable to take notes without a computer, please let me know. I’ll try my best to accommodate you. However, if I notice any inappropriate use of technology during class, only students with notes from the accessibility office will be allowed to use electronics in class.

Assignment Instructions

More thorough instructions concerning assignments will be given in class. If you have questions about an assignment, please ask for clarifications during class. You will need to attend the course lectures if you want thorough instructions for each assignment.

Class Participation

Class Participation. There are few students enrolled in this course, therefore, it is absolutely essential that you attend and participate in discussions. Full participation points will be awarded according to the frequency of attendance and participation in class discussions. We’ll discuss during the seminar exactly what those standards may be. Participation in the course is worth 60 points.

Email

Please email me directly at jordanhaug@gmail.com. When composing emails follow the instructions from this useful guide. If you do not follow those instructions, I will not respond to your emails. During weekdays, I will make my best effort to respond to emails. However, awaiting my response is never an excuse for not completing assignments described in the syllabus. When in doubt, check the syllabus.

Accessibility and Academic Accommodations

If you have a disability and require accommodations in this class, please see me as soon as possible. If you have not already done so, please contact the Accessibility Services Department MS 190 at 801-863-8747 or asd@uvu.edu to request accommodations and provide appropriate documentation. Requests for appointments must be made a week in advance. Students who believe they have been denied program access or otherwise discriminated against because of a disability are encouraged to initiate a grievance by contacting the Accessibility Services Director, Pola Morrison at 801-863-8747. Please consult the Accessibility Services Department for more information. for more information on services and scheduling appointments.

Point Distribution and Late Assignments

Below is a breakdown of the points available in the course. Late assignments will be accepted, but the grade will be automatically reduced by a whole letter grade. There is no time limit on accepting late assignments, but they are also considered late immediately after the assigned time they are due.

POSSIBLE COURSE POINT TOTAL: 1040 points

The grade scale is the following– A: 930-1000; A-: 900-929; B+: 870-899; B: 830-869; B-: 800-829; C+: 770-799; C: 730-769; C-: 700-729; D+: 670-699; D: 630-669; and D-: 600-629.

WEEK 1- “THE CENTRE CANNOT HOLD”

May 9 (W)- Seminar: Introduction- Transparency and Opacity

  • Read: Andersen, K. (2017, Sept. 7). How America Lost Its Mind. The Atlantic.
  • Read: Brotherton, R. (2015). Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories, Pp. 1-17. London: Bloomsbury.
  • Watch: Morris, E. (2013, Nov. 21). “November 22, 1963 – Errol Morris JFK Assassination Documentary.[14mins].” Op-Docs. New York Times.
  • Watch: Retro Report. (2017, May 15). “Conspiracy Theories and Fake News from JFK to Pizzagate.[13mins].” New York Times.

May 11 (F)- Seminar: What’s the Harm?

  • Read: Brotherton, R. (2015). Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories, Pp. 39-98. London: Bloomsbury.
  • Read: Lewis, P. (2018, Feb. 2). ‘Fiction is outperforming reality’: how YouTube’s algorithm distorts truth. The Guardian.
  • Watch: Vice. (2018, Mar. 5). How YouTube’s Algorithm Could Prioritize Conspiracy Theories [3mins]. Vice.


WEEK 2- PARANOIA AS METHOD

May 14 (M)- Seminar: The Paranoid Style

  • Read: Hofstadter, R. (1964, Nov.). The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Harper’s Magazine (Nov.): 77-86.
  • Read: Brotherton, R. (2015). Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories, Pp. 99-118. London: Bloomsbury.
  • Watch: Gray, R. (2017, Feb. 17). “Have Conspiracy Theories Gone Mainstream? [3.5mins].” The Atlantic.

May 16 (W)- Seminar: The Age of Anger

  • Read: Mishra, P. (2016, Dec. 8). Welcome to the age of anger. The Guardian.
  • Read: Friedman, J. (2012). “Diametric to concentric dualism: Cosmopolitan intellectuals and the re-configuration of the state.” In Contesting the State: The Dynamics of Resistance and Control, eds. A. Hobard and B. Kapferer, Pp. 261-290. Wantage: Sean Kingston.
  • Read: Campion-Vincent, V. (2005). “From Evil Others to Evil Elites: A Dominant Pattern in Conspiracy Theories Today.” In Rumor Mills: The Social Impact of Rumor and Legend, eds. G.A. Fine, et al., eds., Pp. 103-122. New Brunswick: Aldine Transaction.

May 18 (F)- Seminar: Paranoiac Ideologies

  • Read: Aupers, S. (2012). ‘Trust no one’: Modernization, paranoia and conspiracy culture. European Journal of Communication 27(1): 22-34.
  • Read: Hunt, J. (1999). “Paranoid, Critical, Methodological, Dalí, Koolhaas, and…” In Paranoia Within Reason: Casebook on Conspiracy as Explanation, eds. G.E. Marcus, Pp. 21-30. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

 

WEEK 3- WHO TRUSTS THE GOVERNMENT? 

May 21 (M)- Seminar: Trust and Reasoning

  • Read: Selections from Dentith, M.R.X. (2014). The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories. New York: Palgrave.
  • Read: Keeley, B.L. (1999). Of Conspiracy Theories. The Journal of Philosophy 96(3): 109-126.

May 23 (W)- Seminar: Trustworthiness, Reputation, and Authority

  • Read: Selections from Dentith, M.R.X. (2014). The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories. New York: Palgrave.
  • Read: Gellner, E. (1988). “Trust, Cohesion, and the Social Order.” In Trust: Making and Breaking Cooperative Relations, ed. D. Gambetta, Pp. 142-157. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
  • Read: Origgi, G. (2018, Mar. 14). Say goodbye to the information age: it’s all about reputation now. Aeon.

May 25 (F)- Seminar: Mistrust, Chemtrails, and Science Denial

  • Read: Carey, M. (2017). Mistrust: An Ethnographic Theory, Pp. 1-13, 85-106. Chicago: HAU Books.
  • Read: Bakalaki, A. (2016). Chemtrails, Crisis, and Loss in an Interconnected World. Visual Anthropology Review 32(1): 12–23.
  • Read: McIntyre, L. (2018). Post-truth, Pp. 17-34. Cambridge: MIT Press.

 

WEEK 4- Discovering Locke’s “MADMAN”

May 28 (M)- [Holiday, NO CLASS]

May 30 (W)- Seminar: The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories, Part I

  • Read: Selections of Brotherton, R. (2015). Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories. New York: Bloomsbury.

June 1 (F)- Seminar: The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories, Part II

  • Read: Selections of Brotherton, R. (2015). Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories. New York: Bloomsbury.
  • Read: Hogenboom, M. (2018, Jan. 24). The enduring appeal of conspiracy theories. BBC.

 

WEEK 5- THE SIGNAL IN THE NOISE

June 4 (M)- Seminar: The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories, Part III

  • Read: Selections of Brotherton, R. (2015). Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories. New York: Bloomsbury.
  • Read: Cassam, Q. (2015, Mar. 13). Bad thinkers. Aeon.
  • Watch: Lifehacker. (2017, Apr. 24). “The Appeal of Conspiracy Theories [3.5mins].” Lifehacker.

June 6 (W)- Seminar: “The News”: Rumor or Propaganda

  • Read: McIntyre, L. (2018). Post-truth, Pp. 63-122. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Watch: Curtis, A. (2010). “Paranoia and Moral Panics [6.5mins].” BBC.
  • Watch: Retro Report. (2016, Jun. 7). “Dungeons & Dragons: Satanic Panic [13mins].” Retro Report | The New York Times.
  • Watch: Retro Report. (2014, Mar. 10). “McMartin Preschool: Anatomy of a Panic [13mins].” Retro Report | The New York Times.
  • Read one of the sections on either rumor or propaganda found in the “‘The News’: Rumor or Propaganda” blog post. Make sure you comment on the post.

June 8 (F)- Seminar: The Structure of the Fait Divers

  • Read: Guinan, A.K. (2002). “A Severed Head Laughed: Stories of Divinatory Interpretation.” In Magic and Divination in the Ancient World, eds. L. Ciraolo and J. Seidel, Pp. 7-40. Leiden: Brill.
  • Read: Jaekl, P. (2017, Jan. 29). Why We Hear Voices in Random. Nautilus.
  • Watch: PatrickJMT (2016, May 19). “The origin of countless conspiracy theories [3.5mins].” TED-Ed.
  • Watch: Al Jazeera. (2017, Mar. 2). “Roland Barthes – How to Read the Signs in the News [3mins].” Al Jazeera English.
  • Watch: Morris, E. (2013, Nov. 20). “Who Was the Umbrella Man? | JFK Assassination Documentary [6.5mins].” Op-Docs. New York Times.

 

WEEK 6- THE PROBLEM WITH CRITIQUE

June 11 (M)- Seminar: “Has Critique Run out of Steam”

  • Read: Latour, B. 2002. Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern. Critical Inquiry 30(2): 225-248.
  • Oelbaum, J. (2018, May 15). “The Blood Ritual That Lives on YouTube.” Gizmodo.
  • Watch: Curtis, A. (2009). “Oh Dearism [7mins].” BBC.

June 13 (W)- Seminar: UFOs

  • Read: Selections from Lepselter, S. (2016). The Resonance of Unseen Things: Poetics, Power, Captivity, and UFOs in the American Uncanny. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

June 15 (F)- Seminar: Lizard People

  • Read: Selections from Lepselter, S. (2016). The Resonance of Unseen Things: Poetics, Power, Captivity, and UFOs in the American Uncanny. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  • Watch: Vice. (2012, Aug. 24). David Icke: Conspiracy of the Lizard Illuminati (Part 1/2) [8.5mins]. Vice.
  • Watch: Vice. (2012, Aug. 24). David Icke: Conspiracy of the Lizard Illuminati (Part 2/2) [10.5mins]. Vice.

 

WEEK 7- POST-TRUTH POLITICS

June 18 (M)- Seminar: Conspiracy Theories of and by Elites

  • Join in the discussion titled “George Soros, Barak Obama, and Donald Trump”

June 20 (W)- Seminar: Contemporary Political Conspiracy Theories

  • Join at least two of the remaining posts in the “Course Discussions” section.

June 22 (F)- Seminar: Understanding Post-truth Politics

    • Read: McIntyre, L. (2018). Post-truth, Pp. 123-172. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Let’s break out the tin foil and discuss

Each student needs to participate in blog discussions on at least two of the following topics. Students may contribute to any many posts as they’d like for extra credit points.

Join discussions on:

Discussion: Satanists and the Illuminati in the Culture Industry

Discussion: Alex Jones and InfoWars

Discussion: False Flage Conspiracies

Discussion: #PizzaGate and #TheStorm

Discussion: Vince Foster, Seth Rich, and Sean Hannity

  • UFOs (20 points, due June 22nd).

Discussion: UFOs

Discussion: An Unique Paranoia

  • Russophobia (20 points, due June 22nd).