The Stigmatization of Conspiracy Theory since the 1950s:

The Stigmatization of Conspiracy Theory since the 1950s

"A Plot to Make us Look Foolish", 1st Edition

By Katharina Thalmann


214 pages | 10 B/W Illus.

Purchasing Options:$ = USD
Paperback: 9781138346819
pub: 2019-03-05
SAVE ~$7.99
Hardback: 9781138346802
pub: 2019-02-26
SAVE ~$30.00
eBook (VitalSource) : 9780429020353
pub: 2019-03-06
from $19.98

FREE Standard Shipping!


Are conspiracy theories everywhere and is everyone a conspiracy theorist? This ground-breaking study challenges some of the widely shared assessments in the scholarship about a perceived mainstreaming of conspiracy theory. It claims that conspiracy theory underwent a significant shift in status in the mid-20th century and has since then become highly visible as an object of concern in public debates.

Providing an in-depth analysis of academic and media discourses, Katharina Thalmann is the first scholar to systematically trace the history and process of the delegitimization of conspiracy theory. By reading a wide range of conspiracist accounts about three central events in American history from the 1950s to 1970s – the Great Red Scare, the Kennedy assassination, and the Watergate scandal – Thalmann shows that a veritable conspiracist subculture emerged in the 1970s as conspiracy theories were pushed out of the legitimate marketplace of ideas and conspiracy theory became a commodity not unlike pornography: alluring in its illegitimacy, commonsensical, and highly profitable.

This will be of interest to scholars and researchers interested in American history, culture and subcultures, as well, of course, to those fascinated by conspiracies.


‘Conspiracy theories are as old as the hills, but they only became the object of scholarly study and concern after 1945. In this meticulously researched study, Katharina Thalmann traces the discursive history of conspiracy theory, revealing how it became a familiar concept, a widely derided form of explanation, and a perceived threat to democratic rationality. Thalmann's approach helps to explain the persistent public fascination with conspiracy, from the rise of a postwar "culture of paranoia" to contemporary debate about the politics of conspiracy discourse.’ Professor Timothy Melley, author of The Covert Sphere: Secrecy, Fiction, and the National Security State (Cornell University Press, 2012).

‘Thalmann’s bold and timely book updates and challenges longstanding concerns that conspiracy theories have become increasingly respectable. In offering precise and nuanced readings of conspiracy theories and their reception within academic and media discourses, Thalmann produces a convincing argument about the changing status of conspiracy theories during the Twentieth Century. Thalmann also addresses the contemporary moment. While other commentators see Trump’s ascension as proof of conspiracy theory’s increased legitimacy, Thalmann suggests that Trump and other influential conspiracy theorists on the populist right today gain traction through their links to conspiracy theory precisely becauseof its fringe, illegitimate hue. Getting airtime is not the same as legitimacy in Thalmann’s eyes. Reading against the grain, with careful conviction, Thalmann’s book is a key intervention into the lively field of conspiracy studies.’ Dr Clare Birchall – Reader in Contemporary Culture, King’s College London, UK.

Table of Contents


Part I. Theories of Conspiracy Theory

1. From Fears of Conspiracy to Fears of Conspiracy Theory: The Stigmatization of Conspiracy Theory in Academic Discourse

Part II. Conspiracy Theory Culture

2. Preceding Stigmatization: The Red Scare and Conspiracy Theories in the 1950s

3. Reflecting Stigmatization: The Kennedy Assassination and Conspiracy Theories in the 1960s

4. Embracing Stigmatization: Watergate and Conspiracy Theories in the 1970s

Conclusion: The State and Status of Conspiracy Theory in the Age of Trump(ism)

About the Author

Katharina Thalmann is Assistant Professor in the American Studies Department, University of Tübingen, Germany.

About the Series

Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theories have a long history, and exist in all modern societies. However, their visibility and significance are increasing today. Conspiracy theories can no longer be simply dismissed as the product of a pathological mind-set located on the political margins.

This series provides a nuanced and scholarly approach to this most contentious of subjects. It draws on a range of disciplinary perspectives including political science, sociology, history, media and cultural studies, area studies and behavioural sciences. Issues covered include the psychology of conspiracy theories, changes in conspiratorial thinking over time, the role of the Internet, regional and political variations and the social and political impact of conspiracy theories.

The series will include edited collections, single-authored monographs and short-form books.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General
HISTORY / United States / General
HISTORY / United States / 20th Century
HISTORY / Modern / 20th Century
HISTORY / Americas (North, Central, South, West Indies)
POLITICAL SCIENCE / History & Theory
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Ideologies / General