Truth, Fiction and Power: understanding conspiracy theories about COVID-19

Laia Soto Bermant’s project examines and documents ethnographically the global spread of conspiracy theories about Covid-19.

This project will examine and document ethnographically the global spread of conspiracy theories about Covid-19. Specifically, I will be looking at how the circulation of theories about the origins of the disease is creating new kinds of relations and separations between locations across the globe. Rather than question the truth-value of these theories, I am interested in understanding the perspective of those who believe in them and drawing that into the wider political context to see what happens to these ‘alternative’ histories as they move from one place to another.

Why do these stories catch on in some locations and not in others? Who are the people that support them and why do they find them persuasive? Why do some theories appear to spread so rapidly while others remain hidden in the darkest corners of the web? And what does this tell us about the way in which information spreads unevenly across the world? Finally, is there anything we can learn by studying conspiracy theories about how we interpret critical events, both subjectively and collectively as a society? These are some of the key questions I will address in this project.

Most research on Covid-19 at the moment is focused either on the global or on the local aspects of the pandemic – either how the whole world gripped by it, or how a particular country or cultural group is dealing with it. In contrast, my aim is to follow some particular conspiracies across the world to see where they land, and what happens to them when they do.

Through this, I want to understand how the circulation of these kinds of ideas about the ‘real’ causes of Covid-19 can shed light on the contemporary circulation of ideas more generally, and how that reflects, informs or even contributes towards the creation of relations between places.

Photo: Felton Davis (Flickr)