"I'm Not a Conspiracy Theorist, But⋯": Knowledge and Conservative Politics in Unsettled Times

Jennifer Carlson, Elliot Ramo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


How does conspiracist thinking become appealing to its adherents, and with what political consequences? Drawing on fifty in-depth interviews with gun sellers from April 2020 to August 2020, this paper examines conspiracist thinking among US conservatives. We present a sociological account that follows historian Richard Hofstadter's early account in theorizing conspiracist thinking as a "style"of politics on the Right. Turning to the sociology of culture and political sociology, we examine conspiracist thinking as a tool of political sense-making that becomes particularly appealing during "unsettled"insecurity. We focus on conservative adherents to conspiracist thinking, examining how conspiracist thinking is mobilized to assert feelings of control and certainty in ways that reinforce allegiance to conservative values and repudiation of partisan opponents. Specifically, we theorize conspiracist thinking as an everyday practice of meaning-making (an epistemological practice) which responds to conditions of unsettled insecurity that reflects existing conservative "modes of thought"(e.g., anti-elitist skepticism) and also reinforces conservative sentiments through two mechanisms: epistemological individualism and epistemological othering. Extending existing accounts of conspiracism, our analysis illuminates how conspiracist thinking - as an active, and self-reinforcing, struggle for epistemological control amid contexts of information scarcity and uncertainty - has come to shape American politics from the bottom up.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1658-1681
Number of pages24
JournalSocial Forces
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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