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Conspiracy Theories and the People Who Believe Them$
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Joseph E. Uscinski

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190844073

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190844073.001.0001

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Conspiracy Theory

Conspiracy Theory

The Nineteenth-Century Prehistory of a Twentieth-Century Concept

Chapter:
(p.62) 4 Conspiracy Theory
Source:
Conspiracy Theories and the People Who Believe Them
Author(s):

Andrew McKenzie-McHarg

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780190844073.003.0004

Conspiracy theories have been around for a long time, though how long is a matter of debate. As for the concept of conspiracy theory, it might seem reasonable to expect a more exact answer about the moment of its emergence. When do we first find people talking and writing about conspiracy theories? While much of the literature points to the twentieth-century philosopher Karl Popper and his famous work The Open Society and Its Enemies (1st edition: 1945), newspaper databases allow us to locate earlier occurrences of “conspiracy theory.” They reveal that the term proliferates in newspapers from the 1870s onward, particularly after the assassination of President Garfield in July 1881. What can this discovery then tell us about the modern-day phenomenon of conspiracy theories?

Keywords:   concepts, conceptual history, crime, forensics, journalism, objectivity, clues, theory, conspiracy theory

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