What is a conspiracy theory?

Hello, and welcome to the Folklore & Fiction newsletter. This edition is a departure from my promised two-part discussion of language and verbal lore, which will be condensed and presented in a single edition next month. Instead, I'm answering the call of folklore scholar Phillips Stevens Jr., who argues that folklorists are uniquely qualified to address harmful collective narratives and because of this, they have "a professional and moral responsibility to share their knowledge" (Stevens Jr. 1996, 391). I'm also following the lead of Timothy Tangherlini and his fellow scholars, who write that "people are making real-world, and at times violent or dangerous, decisions based on informal stories that circulate on and across their social networks, and that conspiracy theories are a significant part of that storytelling" (Tangherlini et al. 2020, 34). With these arguments in mind, I'll endeavour to provide you with an accessible introduction to narrative scholarship on the topic of conspiracy theories and summarize my discussion with a list of questions you can use to evaluate the trustworthiness of narratives you encounter online and elsewhere.

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