Conspiracy Theory
PWR 1 Fall Quarter 2008
Jonah G. Willihnganz
Stanford University


                                                                                                                                                                         
A Descriptive List of 3-4 Research Topics with Questions
1 Copy Due Monday Oct 13 to Coursework by 12 noon

The purpose of developing this initial descriptive list of topics list of is to help you identify some research questions you'd like to explore as you start developing your research skills. You task here is to develop 3-4 topics, with specific questions about them. The best resource for browsing conspiracy theories and narratives is the 2-volume Conspiracy Theories in American History: An Encyclopedia. You can look at this any time in the reference section on the first floor of Green LIbrary (call number is 179.C66 2003).

Remember that in this course you can focus your research on either a conspiracy theory (or related theories) or on a set of conspiracy narratives.  (If you'd like, you can do both—e.g., you might look at theories of alien abduction and a narrative of alien abduction such as the TV series Taken.) Remember too that we are mostly interested in what the theories or narratives suggest about our culture, not whether or not they are true. The kinds of questions we have been asking about particular kinds of conspiracy theories and narratives are: what do they reflect about the culture? what anxieties, concerns, experiences, etc. do they seem to address? are they allegorical in some way—for what? what desires or fears do they express and do they amplify them or help resolve them? what do they accomplish and how? how do they engage issues of freedom, control, individuality, collectivity, nationalism, capitalism, democracy, the media, race relations, gender relations, class relations, etc? what do they explain about our experience of the modern world, especially about how it has been changing over the last 50 years?

I will review these and suggest to you what seems most promising before you begin your Research Proposal.

When you make up your list, it should be informal but substantive. Here are examples (drawn from prior student's ideas, though not about conspiracy theories or narratives). Notice that they both include relatively focused questions they would like answered:

If you want more tips and guidance about formulating research topics, have a look at Choosing Your Research Topic. Also, It may help you to look at the Research Proposal assignment.

In general, questions that usually lead to successful, interesting audio essays exhibit the principles below.

Six Principles of a Good Research Question

1. Genuine: The question requires real investigation and deliberation. It is not a question that anyone could answer in an hour's worth of internet surfing, nor is it a question that begs an obvious or simple stance.

2. Significant: The question will interest an intelligent, educated, Bay Area audience. It is not a question that will interest only students, or only engineers, or only puppet lovers.

3. Researchable: The question can be answered, at least provisionally, by doing substantive research. It is not a question that is essentially un-answerable or speculative.

4. Manageable: The question can be answered, at least provisionally, by your research in the next ten weeks. It is not a question that would require a field trip to India or a year of reading.

5. Promises Insight: The question promises to elicit new knowledge, perspective, or insight. It is not a question that has already been asked and answered widely