International Conference „Conspiracy Theories in the Current European Crisis: Argumentation Strategies, Cognitive Concepts, Stereotype Formation and Pictorial Rhetoric “











Abstracts (Under Construction...)


Anton, Andreas, University of Freiburg, Germany

Unreal Realities - An Approach to Conspiracy Theories Based on Sociology of Knowledge

How do conspiracy theories arise and how do they become popular in modern culture? What are their psychological and social functions? What are their social, political and economic breeding grounds? The presentation will try to give answers to these questions based on a new sociological model of conspiracy thinking. The main focus will examine the discursive fights between accepted and rejected knowledge within modern societies and show that the truth status of conspiracy theories ultimately depends more on social constructions of reality than on “hard facts”. Furthermore, the presentation will provide a new perspective on conspiracy theories that does not condemn them as irrational or dangerous opinions from the outset, but tries to define them as a special form of social knowledge.



Fiorentini, Ilaria - University of Pavia and Bolzano & Marino, Gabriele University of Turin, Italy

“I want to believe”. Social networks and the rhetorics of “conspiratards”

The paper is divided into three parts. The first part provides a
semiotic definition of “conspiracy theories” (henceforth, CT) as a form of
ideology (namely, an axiological system which is strictly deductive, according
to Eco) based on the notion of “conspiracy” and characterized by the modal
value of “having-to-do” (inflexed as “having-to-reveal, having-to-persuade”).
The second part reconstructs the general rhetoric of CT, meant as a
communicational strategy aiming at persuading someone, drawing particular
attention to what can be defined the “conspiratards’ discourse” (discorso
del gombloddo
or discorso dei complottari, in Italian), namely the
satirical representation of CT in media and social media in particular. The
third and last part presents a linguistic analysis of a small corpus of
conspiratads’ texts in social networks, namely the posts of Italian
Facebook pages “Siamo la gente il potere ci temono” (something like “We are the people, the power, they fear us”) and “Lercio” (“Filthy”).



González, Rayco - University of Burgos, Spain

The Inflation of Suspicion – The Discourse of Conspiracy

In textual strategies of traditional conspiracy genres, such as noir or spy, stories show some people conspirating or attempting against the State or the Law. In other words their plots are built on the assumption of a battle between one unseen order belonging to conspirators against a semiotic order of the world that we can call “normality” kept by the State. In this struggle between one subject (State) and its opponent (conspirators), the object is to keep the signs of normal order to one addressee (citizens). This mission must be done in secret by the State, because otherwise citizens could discover that the order they see hide one other unseen and immanent order with unpredictable consequences. Conspiracy theories make the State out to be the main suspicious actor against its own citizens. Any fact can be suspicious, joining an axiological system (ideology) of presuppositions and innuendos affording a unique mono-causal and deterministic plot where all facts and details are moved by one single meaning: conspiracy. Besides, some sociological approaches connect conspiracy theories to periods of economical and political crisis, because they throw into crisis the meaning of State, placing it in the role of the traitor, just as a double agent can be in spy genres. This work will focus on the features of suspicious systems and figures in some conspiracy theory discourses and its connections to other cultural presuppositions and innuendos, forming a textuality as a background allowing to project and form a veridictional strategy of conspiracy plots made by States. An example is chosen: the mockumentary Operación Palace (2014) apparently revealed that the coup d’état on February 23th 1981 was faked by the Spanish State to keep democracy, that is to say the normal order.



Kourdis, Evangelos - Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

The “Velopoulos-Liakopoulos” Phenomenon and the Explosion of Greek Conspiracy Theories in the Crisis.

The presentation will examine the explosion of conspiracy theories in the Greek crisis since 2008 as a development that has been prepared at least since the late 1980s, with the introduction of private TV-channel ownership rights, the reorganization of the populist Right in Greece, as well as with the combination of imported conspiracy theories, mostly from the UK and the US, with elements of Hellenic history, archaeology, mythology and popular stereotypes. I will focus on the discourses created by two particular proponents of these theories and I will try to provide background on the political and economic reasons behind their success and diffusion.


Leone, Massimo - University of Turin, Italy

Agency and Conspiracy: Narrative Fallacies in the Global Crisis


Recent cognitive theories suggest that the ability to read events in the environment as caused by agency might be the result of adaptive evolution. Humans can elaborate mental representations in which phenomena do not only happen, but are provoked by other beings or entities provided with intentionality and agency, that is, with the capacity to turn one’s internal representations into a course of action. Thanks to this adaptive ability, human beings can, among other things, try to predict and prevent a potential danger by associating its occurrence with that which is considered the agency that could bring it about. However, like many other adaptive cognitive features of human beings, the ability to comprehend the environment through attribution of agency can backfire, especially if the environment is no longer a jungle where simple relations obtain between preys and predators, but a sophisticated symbolical environment in which an increasing number of events take place automatically, or anyway without clear display of their agency.
The financial crisis that has strangled most of the Western world since 2008 is an excellent example. For many human beings who receive representations of this crisis through mass media, social networks, or in conversation with friends and relatives, the crisis is a sort of predator. It threatens to snatch away from them their job, their security, and their dignity. For many, this threat has become a reality: because of the crisis, millions of people around the world have seen their professional and personal lives destroyed.
In verbal representations of this tragedy, the crisis is the subject. The problem is that “crisis” is an abstract noun. Saying that “the crisis has disrupted the harmony of my family” is not the same as saying “a tiger has killed and devoured my children”. Human beings are biologically programmed to attribute intentionality and agency to a tiger, but not to an abstract entity like a financial crisis.
Abstract entities, deprived of personal intentionality, are personalized and endowed with their own agency. Media start circulating representations in which “the crisis has started”; “the crisis is spreading”; “the crisis is taking its toll of jobs”; etc. In these and other representations, the crisis itself becomes a subject, as if it was a ferocious animal whose deeds are totally independent from the agency of human beings. In other cases, other agencies are singled out beyond that of the crisis, but attributed, again, to abstract, impersonal entities. From this point of view, the way in which the media represent the financial markets is almost hilarious. In many cases, they are attributed not only personal agencies, as if they were malign spirits rampaging behind the curtains of the crisis; to complete the delusional effect of the human cognition of agency, they are given an emotional flavor too: “The markets suffer today”; “the markets today are shy”; “they are angry”; etc.
The problem with these representations is that they have the same social effect that ancient divination would have when attributing the agency of famines or draughts to the gods’ hostility. On the one hand, they dissimulate human agencies lying beyond the calamity; angry gods are starving the people, not the wrong decisions of the emperor. On the other hand, since they offer representations that cannot satisfy the human instinct for agency attribution, they implicitly encourage the quest for a culprit, for the actor that truly provoked the catastrophe. The paper will seek to frame conspiracy theories as the result of such narrative quest.



Marcos, Isabel - New University of Lisbon, Portugal

European Crisis: A Semiotic Analysis of a View on the Struggle of Portuguese Research 

Conspiracies will be analysed with regard to a “secret” agreement between several persons or influential groups, with the aim of overturning a democratically established power. We proceed from the hypothesis that the numerous reductions of means applied to Portuguese science were conceived with very specific objectives going beyond budgetary cuts. We commence with a semiotic analysis of a television debate at the time of the most radical cut in Portuguese science, to then undertake a reflexion on manipulation and on the dangerous notion of austerity.


Pezzini, Isabella - Sapienza University of Rome, Italy

Paranoia Among the Stars - Everyday Conspiracy in Italian Politics

In Italian politics (and not only there, unfortunately) the populist drift, or the so-called ‘anti-politics’, holds great sway over an electorate that, while disappointed and confused, is available and perhaps actively seeking new reference points.

In this paper, I want to focus on the communication strategies used by the “5 Star Movement”, which is a case of particular interest since it can be seen as a turning point in the politics of the spectacle, in which the leader is not only inspired by spectacular techniques, but arises directly from them: in this sense it would be more appropriate to speak more bluntly of an outright ‘political spectacle’. In reality, the leadership of the Movement is twofold (hinging on Beppe Grillo, a comedian, and Roberto Casaleggio, an ITC trader): the theme of the double and an oppositional couple dynamics seem to dominate the entire conception of the Movement. One example is their successful engrafting of newer communication technologies, such as the Internet and social networking, onto more traditional methods of communication, such as a direct relationship with the leader at large political gatherings – thus,  their ability to combine and compensate the ‘cold’ technical media with the warmth of corporeality. The same bipolarity can be seen on the one hand in the founding appeal for participation and direct democracy favoured by the network, and on the other hand in the leaders’ hierarchical management of top-down dynamics within the movement itself, through practices of denunciation, delegitimization and expulsion of those who deviate from the standardized model of blind trust and total acceptance of the party line. The movement’s adoption of the communication model of the conspiracy follows a dual strategy, with both an outward and inward direction: on the outside, thanks to the traditional role and charisma attributed to the figure of the "comedian", M5stelle has established itself as the detector of political conspiracy, thus titillating the  anti-political public, constructing itself as the  guarantor of that same public’s rights and thus generating consensus; on the inside, the leadership within the movement exercises unflinching control on its members, unmasking them and assessing their loyalty through the inappealable and final verdict of the Web.

Volli, Ugo - University of Turin, Italy

The “Eternal Conspiracy”

Conspiracy theories in general are about secret association thought to perform dangerous or immoral activities. There is one relevant exception which has the further important feature of being the oldest conspiracy theory. It is antisemitism, which targets a whole people as dangerous and secretly hostile, permanent subject of conspiracy. The roots of this attitude are old enough for finding its traces in the Bible. A semiotic analysis shows how this bias propagated and diversified during the centuries, and is the model for subsequent conspiracy theories.


Zantides, Evripides - Limassol Technical University, Cyprus

Cyprus: Crossroads of Civilizations and Conspiracy Theorie -- Where the East meets the West

Conspiracy theories have many different forms and have been observed in a wide variety of different countries and cultures. Many significant political and social events have been shown to have accompanying conspiracy theories and various studies suggest that people are likely to endorse and define them for a number of reasons. This paper aims to discuss how and why these speculations seem plausible to some people, as well as present examples of conspiracy theories regarding the global economic crisis, the Eurozone and the case of the Cyprus Financial Crisis.



Prof. Dr. Eva Kimminich


Universität Potsdam
Institut für Romanistik

Prof. Dr. Eva Kimminich
Am Neuen Palais 10
Haus 19, Raum 4.18
14469 Potsdam

Tel.: +49 331 / 977-4144
Fax: +49 331 / 977-4131


Mareen Belloff (Raum 4.32)
Tel.: +49 331 / 977-4146
Fax: +49 331 / 977-4131

Bild mit Studenten auf dem Campus