A public lecture with Scott Radnitz (University of Washington)
This talk asks how conspiracy theories operate in partially democratic or non-democratic settings. Elites in these political systems are believed to strategically use conspiracies to distract, confound, and demobilize the public, yet cynical citizens often independently suspect their own leaders of being complicit in conspiracies. Conspiracy theories in weakly institutionalized societies thus highlight a paradox of political trust: Conspiracy belief involves both credulousness (toward the claimant) and suspicion (of the putative villain). This analysis uses original surveys of Georgia and Kazakhstan to understand how people reconcile official conspiracy claims with distrust of the state. Survey experiments test how they weigh official claims or denials against preexisting biases in determining culpability, and whether exposure to official conspiracy claims motivates pro-regime or repressive policy preferences. The results suggest that people are influenced more by commonsense judgments than elite claims about conspiracy, and that conspiratorial rhetoric does not necessarily translate into political support.
Scott Radnitz is Associate Professor in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies and Director of the Ellison Center for Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies at the University of Washington. He does research on the post-Soviet region, covering topics such as protests, authoritarianism, informal networks, and identity. His book, Weapons of the Wealthy: Predatory Regimes and Elite-Led Protests in Central Asia, was published by Cornell University Press in 2010. Articles have appeared in journals including Comparative Politics, Comparative Political Studies, British Journal of Political Science, Journal of Democracy, Studies in Comparative International Development, and Post-Soviet Affairs. Policy commentary has appeared in Foreign Policy, The National Interest, Slate, and the Monkey Cage/Washington Post blog. He is currently writing a book on the political uses of conspiracy theories in the post-Soviet region.
This event is part of a series of public talks from the Leverhulme-funded project Conspiracy and Democracy.