• Conspiracy Theories, MIllennialism, and the Nation: Understanding the collective voice in improvisational millennialism

      Henry, Phil; Weller, Paul; Wilson, Andrew Fergus (University of DerbyLaw and Social Science, University of Derby, 2020-07-10)
      The following critical appraisal presents eight interlinked works that apply and extend Michael Barkun’s (2003) concept of ‘improvisational millennialism’. This body of work demonstrates that, as Barkun suggests, the concept is widely applicable to the online communities in which stigmatized knowledge is widely accepted. Moreover, it extends the definition to consider how improvisational millennialism provides ill-defined or dispossessed communities a means of articulating a collective relationship to historical time as well as a crude means of shoring up basic assumptions of group membership. Mythical pasts and millennial expectation provide the opportunity for shared eschatological orientation whilst the dualism of conspiracy theories demarcates between the communities and their outsiders. This critical review demonstrates how the journal articles and book chapters collected in the appendices provide specific examples of the application and extension of improvisational millennialism. The examples chosen are varied but a persistent theme drawn out through analysis is the role that national cultures – official and official – are articulated through improvisational millennialism. The examples include consideration of how the depiction of millennial beliefs in the mass media contribute to national cultural constructs but more typically focus on the use of improvisational millennialism in online communities. Of the latter, the greater number of examples are concerned with improvisational millennialism within the neo-fascist milieu. Mobilised by conspiracy theories with apocalyptic subtexts, the far right reliance on improvisational millennialism demonstrates the implicit danger of the increased incursion of stigmatized knowledge into the cultural mainstream. This critical review serves to show that despite being typified by a syncretic bricolage of unconnected ideas and traditions, improvisational millennialism is reflective of both social and political realities.