Poly-truth, or the limits of pluralism Popular debates on conspiracy theories in a post-truth era

By Jaron Harambam (University of Amsterdam), Kamile Grusauskaite (KU Leuven) and Lars de Wildt (KU Leuven)

Conspiracy theories are central to “post-truth” discussions. Official knowledge, backed by science, politics, and media, is distrusted by various people resorting to alternative (conspiratorial) explanations. While elite commentators lament the rise of such “untruths,” we know little of people’s everyday opinions on this topic, despite their societal ramifications. We therefore performed a qualitative content analysis of 522 comments under a Dutch newspaper article on conspiracy theories to study how ordinary people discuss post-truth matters. We found four main points of controversy: “habitus of distrust”; “who to involve in public debates”; “which ways of knowing to allow”; and “what is at stake?” The diverging opinions outline the limits of pluralism in a post-truth era, revealing tensions between technocratic and democratic ideals in society. We show that popular opinions on conspiracy theories embody more complexity and nuance than elite conceptions of post-truth allow for: they lay bare the multiple sociological dimensions of poly-truth.


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