BLINDED BY THE LIES? Toward an integrated definition of conspiracy theories

Christian Baden*, Tzlil Sharon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Despite widespread concern over the alleged rise of conspiracy theories, scholars continue to disagree whether it is possible to distinguish specific kinds of conspiracist accounts that can justifiably be denounced as objectionable. In this article, we review scholarship from multiple disciplines to develop a composite definition of "conspiracy theories proper"(CTP) that violate fundamental norms of democratic discourse. Besides referring to grand conspiracies to account for social phenomena, we argue, such conspiracy theories: (a) assume conspirators' pervasive control over events and information, (b) construct dissent as a Manichean binary, and (c) employ an elusive, dogmatic epistemology. We discuss the operational potential and limitations of our definition using news user talkbacks on the U.S., British and German online editions of Russia Today (RT), a popular platform among proponents of out-of-mainstream political views. Identifying key operational challenges in the classification of natural discourse, we sketch avenues toward a more rigorous study of contentious political talk.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)82-106
Number of pages25
JournalCommunication Theory
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of International Communication Association. All rights reserved.


  • Conspiracy Theory (CT)
  • Democratic Pluralism
  • Epistemology
  • Intentionalism
  • Manicheanism
  • Political Discourse
  • Reasonable Argument
  • Textual Analysis


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