A New Perspective on Conspiracy Theories and Epidemics

What can a case study on Ebola teach us about conspiracy theories and epidemics? This is the question that Jules Villa, PhD candidate at the Sciences Po médialab,  has taken upon himself to answer.

In an article published by the Sciences Po’s research magazine Cogito, he shows us how conspiracy theories can provide what anthropologist and doctor Didier Fassin terms “a window onto the world” by offering, as Villa puts it, “a better understanding of power relations and inequalities, of relations to science and authority, and of memory of past events”.

Throughout his article, Jules Villa demonstrates the ways in which a history of instability and insecurity can plant the seeds for the rise of conspiracy theories through a series of interviews that he conducted in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to him, in contexts in which there is a lack of trust in institutions, diseases such as Ebola can (and have been) suspected of being used as a political tool to the detriment of local populations.

An awareness of the socio-historical origins of conspiracy theories, Villa argues, is essential to prevent them from being wielded against vulnerable groups by those in positions of power, hence the incentive to take them up as a subject of study and discussion.

In his words, “Conspiracy theories allow us to access a discourse on the world. It is a matter of listening to what they have to tell us and studying them as social objects. The relationship of the dominated to power, to the pharmaceutical industry, to neoliberal globalisation, and to the dynamics of global health interventions are thus informed by these stories, as narratives of past and present experience.”

Find out more in the full article, originally published on the Cogito website.

The Sciences Po Editorial Team

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