1st Edition

Conspiracy Theories in the Time of Covid-19

By Clare Birchall, Peter Knight Copyright 2023
    248 Pages 6 Color & 2 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    248 Pages 6 Color & 2 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    248 Pages 6 Color & 2 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Conspiracy Theories in the Time of Covid-19 provides a wide-ranging analysis of the emergence and development of conspiracy theories during the Covid-19 pandemic, with a focus on the US and the UK.

    The book combines digital methods analysis of large datasets assembled from social media with politically and culturally contextualised close readings informed by cultural studies. In contrast to other studies which often have an alarmist take on the "infodemic," it places Covid-19 conspiracy theories in a longer historical perspective. It also argues against the tendency to view conspiracy theories as merely evidence of a fringe or pathological way of thinking. Instead, the starting assumption is that conspiracy theories, including Covid-19 conspiracy theories, often reflect genuine and legitimate concerns, even if their factual claims are wide of the mark. The authors examine the nature and origins of the conspiracy theories that have emerged; the identity and rationale of those drawn to Covid-19 conspiracism; how these conspiracy theories fit within the wider political, economic and technological landscape of the online information environment; and proposed interventions from social media platforms and regulatory agencies.

    This book will appeal to anyone interested in conspiracy theories, misinformation, culture wars, social media and contemporary society.

    Introduction: Pandemic, Plandemic, Infodemic

    1. Deep Background: The Contexts of Conspiracy Theory

    2. Infodemic: Metaphor, Measurement and Moral Panic

    3. A Year of Covid-19 Conspiracy Theories: Part 1

    4. A Year of Covid-19 Conspiracy Theories: Part 2

    5. Coalitions of Distrust: Features of Coronavirus Conspiracy Theories

    6. Conspiracy Entrepreneurs and Marketplace Bots

    7. Infrastructural Design and Disinfo Capitalism

    Conclusion: Confronting Conspiracism


    Clare Birchall is Professor of Contemporary Culture at King’s College London, UK. She is the author of Knowledge Goes Pop: From Conspiracy Theory to Gossip, Shareveillance: The Dangers of Openly Sharing and Covertly Collecting Data, and Radical Secrecy: The Ends of Transparency in Datafied America.

    Peter Knight is Professor of American Studies at the University of Manchester, UK. He is the author of Conspiracy Culture, The Kennedy Assassination, and Reading the Market, and is co-author of Invested. He is the editor of Conspiracy Nation and Conspiracy Theories in American History, and the co-editor of The Routledge Handbook of Conspiracy Theories.

    "In this timely book, Birchall and Knight provide a much needed and nuanced account of Covid conspiracy theories. Combining both distant and close reading, they show what is new and what isn’t, and make a compelling argument that these conspiracy theories are often rooted in legitimate concerns and social anxieties."

    Michael Butter, Professor of American Studies, University of Tübingen, Germany

    "This essential and timely book by two leading scholars simultaneously provides a wonderful synthesis of scholarship on conspiracy theory and an insightful and informed account of the theories surrounding Covid. It’s a necessary corrective to simplistic assumptions about popular belief and disbelief and will remain relevant for decades."

    Mark Fenster, University of Florida, USA

    "A careful, nuanced overview of the way conspiracy theories help make—and unmake—the world we share, and how Covid-19 conspiracy theories have seamlessly become part of broader, much older narratives about power and control, freedom and paranoia."

    Anna Merlan, Author of Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power