Conspiracy theories as political tools

IMPAKT TV with Florian Cramer and Laudy van den Heuvel

6 May 2021
20:00 — 21:00

Location: IMPAKT TV online

COVID conspiracy theories seem to be spreading just as fast as the virus itself. QAnon has now grown into a worldwide movement with hundreds of thousands of followers. Conspiracy theories are no longer to be found just in the darkest corners of the web, but have infiltrated the public debate. And although it is easy to dismiss all these stories as so much nonsense, they serve a purpose more often than we think – for conspiracies emerge whenever a value system is not shared. Is there also a grain of truth in conspiracy theories? Can they be used as meaningful political tools? In this IMPAKT TV programme we will be discussing these issues with Florian Cramer (Willem de Kooning Academy) and Laudy van den Heuvel (De Groene Amsterdammer).

There is something subversive and speculative about conspiracy theories: conspiracy thinkers openly oppose the establishment, make use of the opportunities offered by the Internet and digital media, and can reach millions with ‘alternative facts’. At the same time, many conspiracy theories weave real events into a web of malevolent fantasies. We look for simple answers to complicated questions, and then it can be hard to draw the line between truth and nonsense. How are fake news and deliberate deception to be identified? How are they used, misused and weaponised? What agendas do they serve?

Florian Cramer, lecturer in 21st-Century Visual Culture/Autonomous Practices at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam, has already stated in the IMPAKT web-project Radicalisation by Design that “conspiracy theories show that anything can potentially be turned into a weapon.” He therefore approaches conspiracy theories from an anthropological angle, as key cultural indicators for the times we live in. Conspiracy theories have always been around, but in our IT-driven societies they are circulating faster than ever.

The way in which historical conspiracy theories have resurfaced and been adapted to new sociopolitical contexts over the centuries is also the focus of Laudy van den Heuvel’s work. She is an investigative journalist for publications including the Dutch news magazine De Groene Amsterdammer. In a recent article she wrote: “Don’t ever try to place these alternative media within a single political spectrum. What does criticism of wars and the power of the US and banks – which are mainly considered left-wing hobbyhorses – have to do with the spread of climate change denial and pro-Trump sentiments?”

In this first IMPAKT TV programme we will be talking to these two guests about the use of conspiracy theories as political tools. The programme is hosted by Friso Wiersum, programme-maker and moderator at the European Cultural Foundation and Expodium, and Arjon Dunnewind, IMPAKT’s artistic director. Read more about IMPAKT TV.


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