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Conservative Politics in a Time in “Fake News” and Irrelevant Truths


The 2016 U.S. Presidential Election has raised urgent questions about the role knowledge plays in conservative politics. Scholars are turning their attention to the proliferation of “fake news” on the internet and what might be a new era of “post-truth” politics in the United States. Political sociologists suggest the possibility that conservatives in the United States belong to numerous “epistemic cultures,” though none have done the long-term observational work necessary to investigate this claim. For my dissertation, I draw on four years of ethnographic research with conservative political organizations located in San Diego and Orange County, California, to analyze how participants involved in conservative political organizations develop and habituate epistemic practices. I find that participants in conservative organizations engage in knowledge production as a secondary activity anchored in primary practical concerns that vary by type of organization. I demonstrate how people within organizations develop coherent sets of epistemic practices by acting in relation to common sets of practical problems, the formal and relational aspects of an organization (including the organization’s relation to a broader party apparatus), and the cultural context that they produce themselves. I further demonstrate how people habituate practices that are incommensurate across types of organizations, to the extent they limit a person’s ability to build relationships with people involved in different conservative political organizations within the same political scene.

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