Article: ‘Normativity in studying conspiracy theory belief: Seven guidelines’

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Article: ‘Normativity in studying conspiracy theory belief: Seven guidelines’

Date Published: 22 March 2023
Author(s): Rik Peels, Nora Kindermann and Chris Ranalli


This paper aims to provide clear guidelines for researchers studying conspiracy theory belief. It examines the meta-linguistic question about how we should conceptualize ‘conspiracy theory’ and its relationship to the evaluative question of how we should evaluate beliefs in conspiracy theories, addressing normative issues surrounding the meaning, use, and conceptualization of ‘conspiracy theory’, as well as how these issues might impact how researchers study conspiracy theories or beliefs in them It argues that four norms, the Empirical Accuracy Norm, the Linguistic Norm, the Social Norm, and the Academic Fecundity Norm, underlie debates about how we should conceptualize or define ‘conspiracy theory’. We zoom in on the linguistic norm, as it has been treated as more fundamental than the other norms. We then scrutinize the argument that normative conceptualizations prematurely settle the question of how conspiracy theories and belief in them should be evaluated, and argue that it fails. Subsequently, we turn to the risks normative conceptualizations pose when it comes to certain assumptions and biases in the study of conspiracy theory belief. Finally, we explore where this leaves us regarding the meta-linguistic and evaluative questions, and formulate seven guidelines for studying conspiracy theory belief, whether it be theoretical, historical, or empirical.

The paper is published online on 22 March 2023 in Philosophical Psychology, an international journal devoted to developing and strengthening the links between philosophy and the psychological sciences.