PhD – In Defense of Conspiracy Theories

Back at the end of 2005 I started the very long process of trying to get a new PhD project off of the ground. Conspiracy theories are not considered to be very respectable and studying them possibly even less so. The only thing that seemed to sway some of the members of the graduate committee was that Brian L. Keeley’s paper, ‘Of Conspiracy Theories,’ had been published in an A-list journal, the ‘Journal of Philosophy;’ if JoP thought conspiracy theories were worthy of philosophical contemplation, then maybe there was a PhD project to be undertaken after all.

I’m still surprised just how close my original proposal for the thesis resembles the finished product.

The thesis was completed in September 2011 and submitted that self-same month. The examiners’ reports came back in January and I passed my oral (with only very minor revisions required) in late February.

My thesis can be read here.

Update: You can read an updated version of my PhD in “The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories”, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2014.

13 Replies to “PhD – In Defense of Conspiracy Theories”

  1. Sweet jesus, HOW much of my tax dollars are sponged up by perpetual students pumping out POINTLESS stuff like this

    why cant you guys actually do something useful or productive with your educations….

  2. does your employer (the state im assuming ) know you probably haven’t achieved anything truly productive at all during your dozen plus years sifting round Auckland campus ?

    mind you thats pretty standard for most professional academics/perpetual students isnt it

    I do enjoy your radio segment by the way, is that the sole product of all that expensive education ?

    1. Thanks, but you realise the segment only exists because I wrote the PhD?

      As for my employment. I am not currently employed by any nation state (although I do occasionally consult). I can’t really say anything more about that.

  3. Matthew, thanks for posting your thesis here. I’m working on my master’s thesis (it’s due in a couple of weeks) and I’ll be citing your dissertation in it. Basically, I said it took you over 30 pages to define “conspiracy theory” since it’s such an interesting term and requires a bit of a value judgment to decide what fits the definition.

  4. What isn’t the thesis on? Haha. Basically, I’m presenting an education-based approach to combat conspiracism in the US military. I do a case study on the communist bogeyman of the Second Red Scare and the Patriot movement that followed it, so my focus is on the role of conspiracism in extremist ideologies, specifically American right-wing extreme groups. I have a chapter dedicated to how conspiracism can lead people to more extreme positions and propose a revamped professional development program that could better educate the force while possibly preventing conspiracy theory-based extremism. Like you, I stress that belief in conspiracy theories per se is not a problem, but most extreme/terrorist groups use some form of conspiracism in their narratives, so it is worth preventing the creation of a Manichean worldview. It’s due in a couple of weeks and I will make sure to get it published through UMI or post it once it’s approved.

  5. It’s almost finished. I’ve been working nonstop for over a week. I’m not sure what the process is for publication yet, but when I get a final product finished I’ll get a copy to you.

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