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Conspiracy Theory as Post-Modernism

Happened across this compelling quote on the Wikipedia metanarrative page:

Although first used earlier in the 20th century, the term was brought into prominence by Jean-François Lyotard in 1979, with his claim that the postmodern was characterised precisely by a mistrust of the “grand narratives” (Progress, Enlightenment, Emancipation, Marxism) that had formed an essential part of modernity.[5]

It’s compelling to me because it neatly characterizes conspiracy theory, in terms of its “mistrust of the grand narratives” as a central defining characteristic.

Its interesting to me especially because there’s an undercurrent of contemporary conspiracy theory which claims to attack post-modernism itself as one of the “grand narratives.” But upon reading the above, it set things back into perspective for me. Namely, that conspiracy theory, where it does purport to attack post-modernism, does so by completely embracing its tools and methods.


Modern Dilemma of Communication


Conspiracy Theory Is Actually Just Postmodernism In Disguise


  1. Tim B.

    Also via Wikipedia, attributed to Lyotard, 1979:

    “Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives. … The narrative function is losing its functors, its great hero, its great dangers, its great voyages, its great goal. It is being dispersed in clouds of narrative language … Where, after the metanarratives, can legitimacy reside?”

  2. Tim B.


    “Lyotard proposed that metanarratives should give way to petits récits, or more modest and “localized” narratives, which can ”throw off” the grand narrative by bringing into focus the singular event.[9] “

  3. Tim B.


    “According to John Stephens and Robyn McCallum, a metanarrative “is a global or totalizing cultural narrative schema which orders and explains knowledge and experience”[13] – a story about a story, encompassing and explaining other “little stories” within conceptual models that assemble the “little stories” into a whole. Postmodern narratives will often deliberately disturb the formulaic expectations such cultural codes provide,[14] pointing thereby to a possible revision of the social code.[15]”

  4. Tim B.

    A short, somewhat interesting explanation of some of these ideas:

  5. Tim B.

    Decent & fairly even-handed article:


    “We get the term “postmodern,” at least in its current, philosophical sense, from the title of Jean-François Lyotard’s 1979 book, “The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge.” It described the state of our era by building out Lyotard’s observations that society was becoming a “consumer society,” a “media society” and a “postindustrial society,” as postmodern theorist Fredric Jameson points out in his foreword to Lyotard’s book. Lyotard saw these large-scale shifts as game-changers for art, science and the broader question of how we know what we know. This was a diagnosis, not a political outcome that he and other postmodernist theorists agitated to bring about.”

    “[…] Right-leaning critics in the decades since Bloom have crassly contorted this argument into a charge that postmodernism was made not by consumerism and other large-scale social and technological developments, but by dangerous lefty academics, or what Kimball called “Tenured Radicals,” in his 1990 polemic against the academic left. At the heart of this accusation is the tendency to treat postmodernism as a form of left-wing politics — with its own set of tenets — rather than as a broader cultural moment that left-wing academics diagnosed.”

    “[…] This “gospel” characterization is misleading in two ways. First, it treats Lyotard and his fellows as proponents of a world where objective truth loses all value, rather than analysts who wanted to explain why this had already happened.”

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