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There is nothing new about the sort of suspicion now commonly called “conspiracy theory,” but the idea that conspiracy theory is a special type of discourse—one that is easily recognized and dismissed as pathological—emerged during the Cold War and is entangled with the history of the security state. In the post-World War II United States, both allegations of conspiracy and dismissals of “conspiracy theory” have become part of a robust discourse on human agency, sovereign power, and the health of the public sphere. Conspiracy discourse is a symptom of the conditions of knowledge in a security society in which secrets are the objects of insistent speculation, public understanding struggles to keep pace with technical innovation, and citizenship is increasingly organized around risk mitigation.

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