Gabriel Dorthe, Harvard STS & RIFS Potsdam; Janel Jett, University of Missouri; Melissa Salm, Stanford University; Marco Dell'Oca, University of California — Davis; Mariam Mauzi, University of Toronto;

Trust in institutions and scientific expertise is said to be eroding. Climate policy, public health, banking systems, media outlets, and Big Tech are a few highly contested fields where manifestations of public distrust and suspicion are most observable today. Equally widespread is the propensity to problematize distrust (and its solutions) in antagonistic terms. Whether combating doubt sowed by the spread of misinformation or debunking conspiracy theories, conventional responses to contrarian views tend to frame the latter as ignorant and in need of policing. This orientation stigmatizes heterodox expressions of distrust, obfuscates the complex rationalities behind their emergence, and polarizes discourse. How can trust be rebuilt if all camps conspire against each other? The premise for this panel is that trust is a relationship that calls for a renewal of its terms. Rather than label conspiracy theories and related cultural expressions of distrust as ridiculous or dangerous, we aim to foreground them as legitimate objects for nuanced social scientific inquiry. We invite papers that engage theoretically and/or empirically with the following themes: (a) Social and political rationalities for public distrust of institutions, hostility towards authority, suspicion of expertise (b) Convergences/divergences between academic and lay critiques of science and/or critical social theory and conspiracy theory (c) Competing regimes of co-production of facts and values, truth and politics in times of uncertainty (d) Relationships between conspiracy theories and systemic inequities in modern institutions, their legacies, and future-oriented goals


Keywords: Controversies, Social Movements and STS, Forms and Practices of Expertise

Published: 04/07/2023