We would like to introduce you to the members of our School and
show the diversity of the themes that are studied within it. Every
month, the mini-interview gives you a glimpse into one research
project. This edition: PhD candidate Tijn Sinke (Utrecht University).
What is your research project about?
My project intends to investigate the role of conspiracy theory as an expression of democratic distrust in Dutch postwar public debate. As case studies, it will focus on four different frames of supposed illegitimate power that have figured prominently in Dutch debate.
Conspiracy theory has recently become a subject of heavy public attention, especially since the prominence of conspiracy theories during the COVID-19 pandemic. But because of the focus of experts and journalists on present-day ‘grand’ conspiracy theories, on the facilitating role of internet and social media, and on the US as favorite case study, we tend to forget that conspiracy thinking has always been used in political and public debate throughout the globe. Politicians, media, protest movements and other actors use elements of conspiracy theory in order to express distrust regarding the legitimacy of powerholders, as part of their quest to ‘save’ democracy from those who are supposedly busy undermining it. But, besides a few exceptions, there has so far not been done much historical research on this subject.
Would you describe your project as political history? Why (not)?
Yes, I would. In current political history, ‘the political’ is seen as something more wide-ranging than just the ideas and actions of politicians. It is also about the ideas and discussions concerning how power is distributed in society at large. And that is at the core of my project: the distrust of actors whose supposed power is not (entirely) democratically legitimized. This often involves an interplay between politicians, journalists, civil society organizations and the public at large.
What do you like most about your project?
What I like most is the kind of sources and stories that I tend to encounter. The kind of claims that distrustful people have made are often spectacular. For example, that catholic power networks have protected war criminals for decades, or that peace movements are secretly funded by Moscow. This is often just fun to read.