Understanding the Rise of the 21st Century 'Flat Earth' Movement From a Bundle of Popular Conspiracy Theories and Science Skepticism
(University of Aberdeen / Universidade Metropolitana de Santos)
Paper short abstract:
This paper analyzes the rhetoric behind the rise of the Flat Earth movement online and the political tactics of its different proponents. Its key proponents argue against 'scientism' and propose an alternative view of the earth and universe aligned with indigenous and phenomenological cosmologies.
Paper long abstract:
Within the last three years, the Flat Earth 'community' and its 'movement' have emerged from a bundle of online conspiracy theories, and grew rapidly. By 2018, over 4 million videos focusing on questions raised by Flat Earth proponents have been posted on YouTube, amassing many millions of views, both supporting and rejecting the notion that the 'earth is not a spinning ball'. I analyze how key Flat Earth proponents construct different yet related narratives, weaving them with other conspiracy theories, and on their political tactics for mobilizing publics and followers. I focus on how they reference other 'truther' conspiracy theories that became popular since 9/11, such as questioning the lunar landings, weather manipulation, ancient aliens, secret societies in government, Hollywood's 'easter eggs', the Project 'Paper Clip' importing of Nazi scientists to the United States to found NASA, and Elon Musk's SpaceX orbiting car. Claiming objectivity, some of its major proponents question mainstream science as a quasi-religious doctrine of 'scientism' - a term that appears in the anthropological literature (e.g., Bourdieu 2004:85, 97, 107). This movement has received little or no anthropological attention since its inception, and yet, its proponents have organized and come together in international conferences held in the Netherlands (2016), the United States (2017) and in the United Kingdom (2018). Ingold (2001:209-218) is one of the only anthropologists who critiqued the notion of the earth as a globe, which contradicts many indigenous cosmologies and Ingold's own phenomenological cosmology of 'being in the world'.
Things are not as they seem. Tracing the movements and immobility of conspiracy theories