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Conspiracy Theories As Social Imaginary: The Case of Blackwater in Pakistan

9th May 2011

CGHR Research Group

Conspiracy Theories As Social Imaginary: The Case of Blackwater in Pakistan

Dr Humeira Iqtidar (Lecturer in Politics, King's College London)

Pakistan seems to offer a particularly fertile ground for conspiracy theories. The presence and undefined role of Blackwater, a private security firm working as a subcontractor to the US Army, has lent new fervour to these discussions. Certainly mainstream North Atlantic media portrays Pakistanis as particularly prone to believing conspiracy theories. Such a representation carries within it many suggestions: of blind nationalism and ignorance of history, of misinformed locals unable to deal with a complicated reality, and of shifting blame from Pakistanis to those outside this imagined community. But what precisely is the relationship between conspiracy theories and a sedimented history?

Conspiracy theories may be too linear and hyper-logical to allow for historical contingency and the messy reality of political struggles, but is it possible to conceive of them as a kind of social imaginary that places Pakistan within a transnational context in an age where a surfeit of information is matched only by its inaccessibility for vast numbers of people, and at a time when it has become legitimate to talk of empire again? The paper takes a detailed look at local stories about Blackwater to think through some of these questions.

Discussant: Dr Sharath Srinivasan, CGHR Director

For more information, please visit Dr Humeira Iqtidar's webpage

Dr Iqtidar's most recent book, Secularizing Islamists?, is available at University of Chicago Press.

iqtidar