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Illuminating (dis)enlightenment : critical media literacy and/or conspiracy theories? Takeda, Yuya


The point of departure of this dissertation is the striking similarities between the dispositions critical media literacy education aims to cultivate and the characteristics conspiracy theorists claim to embody. The golden question of critical literacy, “who benefits?” is in fact the central question of conspiracy theorists: “cui bono?” While critical media literacy educators teach learners to disrupt the common sense, to interrogate multiple viewpoints, to focus on sociopolitical issues, and to take actions and promote social justice (Lewison et al., 2002), conspiracy theorists claim that they do exactly those things (Harambam, 2020). The question, however, is not demarcating “critical” from “conspiratorial,” but “desirable” from “undesirable” exercises of critical reading and writing. This is because the former demarcation presupposes the undesirability of conspiracy theorizing, the danger of which is evident from the fact that actual conspiracies take place rather frequently in politics and, thus, stigmatization of conspiracy theorizing makes it easier for conspirators to get away with their conspiracies (Pigden, 2007). To demarcate educationally desirable from undesirable enactments of critical reading and writing, this dissertation embarks on dialectical investigations of analysis, critique, and argument. The analysis part consists of discourse analysis of educational YouTube videos on conspiracy theories. With this, I identify the ways in which conspiracy theories are constructed in educational discourse and highlight the reductive sense of rationality promoted in it. In the critique part, such a reductive sense of rationality is criticized. Through a conceptual examination of meanings, care, and values, I highlight the limitations of the overreliance on scientific objectivity and facts in the discussion of conspiracy theories and claim that literacy education ought to pay attention to the centrality of meanings and values in the textual genre of conspiracy theories. In the argument part, drawing on Robert Brandom’s (1994, 2019) inferentialism with an existentialist spin, I argue for an educational approach that is capable of accounting for conspiracy theories in terms not only of epistemic matters of facts but also of axiological matters of concern. Through this, I offer my answer to the demarcation question and discuss educational implications that arise from it.

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