Conspiracy, anxiety, ontology: Theorising QAnon
The rise of QAnon presents researchers with a number of important questions. While emerging literature provides insights into how QAnon exists online, there is a dearth of theoretical engagement with the questions of why it exists, and what conditions brought it into being. This paper seeks to address this gap by contextualizing QAnon as an ontological phenomenon underpinned by anxiety, and inquiring into the identity formation strategies employed by the movement. Applying the basic precepts of discourse theory and discourse analysis to a representative canon of QAnon content, it finds that, like other formations of collective identity, QAnon is premised on interconnected dynamics of ontological fulfillment that cannot be explained away by pointing to ‘the algorithm’ or ‘madness’. Nor can it be tackled effectively by the content takedowns and de-platforming strategies currently employed. The paper concludes with a call to explore more empathetic engagement with conspiracy adherents, arguing that until we (re)discover a more inclusive, agonistic politics, QAnon and other fantastical conspiracy movements will continue to arise and some may metastasize into violent action. New forms of resilience to (online) polarization can be built on this principle.
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