A2: Rhetorical Analysis of Conspiracy Theories

The goal of A1 was to clarify how the term “conspiracy theories” is used by researchers and some of the ways conspiracy theories differ from actual conspiracies.

The goal of A2 is to begin analyzing conspiracy theories by examining the structure of their arguments, their use of evidence and metaphors, and their relation to official accounts(remembering that a conspiracy theory is an explanation meant to persuade an audience that a conspiracy is the cause of one or more events).

Research of all kinds necessarily begins with a specific, determinate artifact (some physical phenomenon, a literary text, symptoms of a disease, etc.). This is necessary in order to focus the analysis on specific facts to be explained. In the case of researching conspiracy theories, we need to begin with a specific account, narrative, or text that proposes a conspiracy is responsible for one or more events. For this assignment I have supplied you with the text of a specific conspiracy theory: a lecture given by John Coleman on what he refers to as the “Committee of 300.” This lecture is available on Blackboard under Course Material. A transcript of Coleman’s lecture available here to the right side of the video.

This assignment asks you to perform a rhetorical analysis of Coleman’s lecture applying the analytical/conceptual tools presented in Butter’s The Nature of Conspiracy Theories. Your goal here is not fact-checking the claims Coleman makes. Rather, your goal is identify and describe significant rhetorical features of his argument and to make judgments about the actual rhetorical effects of each of those features. These judgments amount to explanations about how those features make his explanation problematic. I recommend you address 3-4 significant rhetorical features about which you can make judgments regarding their overall rhetorical effect.

Other advice:

• You do not need to address all Coleman’s claims. Focus on the bigger picture: his hypothesis about a group of people working in secret is the cause of one or more events and the ways tries to persuade the audience that this has happened.

• Reference specific events he discusses as examples of how he argues.

• Be attentive to the difference between actual historical events (e.g., assassinations) and events the existence of which is not at all clear (e.g., control of the world economy). He makes claims about both. Some of these claims are falsifiable and some are not.

• The analysis here is not primarily about whether he does/does not provide evidence for his claims. It is rather about the structure and technique of his argument.

• Don’t forget about the research you have already done on conspiracy theories for A1. It is entirely appropriate to incorporate that here where it helps you discuss Coleman’s rhetoric.

• You should not have to consult additional sources other than Butter and the sources approved for A1. If you want to consult other sources, for example, in connection with official versions, be aware that this should not be the focus of the paper. Also be aware that not all sources are credible/appropriate for research purposes, and that using inappropriate sources will negatively effect the quality of the paper.

• Your introduction should set up your analysis by introducing Coleman and his lecture, describing and summarizing the conspiracy he is alleging, and announcing your intention to analyze rhetorical features of his lecture. Your introduction should end with a thesis indicating the most important rhetorical elements of his lecture and their overall rhetorical effect.

• To accomplish the assignment’s goals you will have to undertake a number of argumentative steps such as the following:

o Identify/summarize the specific conspiracy Coleman alleges

o Identify and describe the overall structure of his argument using Butter

o Identify and describe specific 3-4 rhetorical elements of his lecture using Butter

o Offer specific judgments about the rhetorical effectiveness of each of the elements you discuss.

• Your conclusion should draw observation about Coleman’s lecture based on the specifics of your own foregoing analysis.

• You must submit a reasonably complete outline of A2 in order to submit the A2 draft and the A2 final paper.


Papers must conform to MLA/APA guidelines for formatting, spelling, punctuation, usage, citation/documentation; must be proofread, corrected and submitted to Blackboard as .docx files.

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