Comparative Analysis of Conspiracy Theories in Europe (COMPACT)

19 – 20 October 2018   print this page

Conference organizers:

Michael Butter, University of Tübingen, Germany

Nebojša Blanuša, University of Zagreb, Croatia

Peter Knight, University of Manchester, United Kingdom

Conference description:


Conspiracy theories – the belief that events are secretly manipulated behind the scenes by powerful forces – have a long history, and exist in all modern societies. However, their significance is increasing today, especially within Europe. They are not confined to the political margins as the product of a pathological mind-set; instead opinion polls confirm that the majority of citizens in Europe and the U.S. now believe in one or more conspiracy theories. Some conspiracy theories may be harmless entertainment or a sign of healthy scepticism, but others are dangerous because they fuel racism, nationalism or terrorism. They can lead to political disengagement, distrust of the media, and, in the case of climate change and vaccination programmes, loss of faith in medical and scientific authorities.

Yet conspiracy theories have not been studied as comprehensively as their manifest importance demands. Moreover, the limited amount of existing research is fragmented along disciplinary, national and linguistic lines. Only an international and interdisciplinary joint venture will lead to the thorough comprehension of the history, politics, sociology, rhetoric and psychology of conspiracy theories needed to counter their often harmful effects on democratic values.

The aim of this COST Action is therefore to provide a comparative analysis of conspiracy theory (in terms of its different causes, manifestations and effects across countries, cultures, time periods, political systems, media regimes etc.), and to develop recommendations and strategies for stakeholders confronted with it.

The European Cooperation in Science & Technology (COST) aims at providing researchers with the possibility to cooperate in international and interdisciplinary research networks. The official COST website of this COST Action, COMPACT (Comparative Analysis of Conspiracy Theories), can be found here.

Researchers from COST member states, who are currently engaged in research about conspiracy theories, can apply to join the action by emailing a CV and a cover letter to the project managers. The MC votes twice a year on admitting new members. Please also refer to the official COST rules and guidelines.

Conspiracy theories play an increasingly visible role in the political life in Europe, not least because the EU itself is often viewed as a vast conspiracy. Although sometimes seen as harmless entertainment, conspiracy theories can contribute to extremism within particular regions, as well as fuelling tensions between nations. They can erode trust in democratic institutions and the media. Despite the increasing prominence of conspiracy theories in the age of the internet, there has been little systematic research on where they come from, how they work and what can be done about them. The aim of this Action is to develop an interdisciplinary and international network to provide a comprehensive understanding of conspiracy theories.

Existing research has tended to concentrate on specific national traditions, and is often confined to the perspective of a single discipline. In contrast this Action will adopt a comparative approach, investigating the causes, manifestations and effects of conspiracy theories in different regions and times, and drawing on insights from history, politics, sociology, anthropology, cultural studies and psychology. The Action will pursue the inquiry in three broad areas: the manifestations and modes of transmission of conspiracy theory in different historical and cultural contexts; the variety of actors and audiences involved in the production and consumption of conspiracy theories; and the psychological and cultural causes and political consequences of belief in conspiracy. Working closely with stakeholders, this Action will build a better understanding of conspiracy theories in order to develop an effective response to them.