What is “outsider theory”?

The term “outsider theory” comes from Jonathan Eburne’s 2018 book of that title. In part, this project aims to expand upon Eburne’s enterprise of “taking seriously ideas that might otherwise be regarded as errant, unfashionable, or even unreasonable.” But it also adapts the phrase to designate several distinct but related interests. For now, it will be a blog, but it may eventually expand into other media.

The Outsider Theory project focuses on the following general areas:

  1. What is usually called “conspiracy theory”: ideas about power, politics, history and technology that fall outside the bounds of respectable academic opinion, yet often overlap and coincide with the interests of credentialed academic “theorists.”
  2. The ways in which academic theories have escaped the confines of the university and circulated in unexpected ways beyond their intended audiences, often but not always on the internet.
  3. The concepts of the “outsider” and the “outside.” This can refer to various things, but I’m primarily interested in social outsiders, scapegoats, parasites on one hand; and on the other, ideas about the outer limits of what can be known.

What do I mean by “theory”?

I usually use this term not in the most general sense but as shorthand for the body of mostly continental European writing that became dominant in the humanities and social sciences in the 1970s and 80s. This usage roughly coincides with the term “French Theory” but the writings I’m referencing are by no means exclusively French. To connect this notion of “theory” back to the main areas of focus described above, this project will explore: 1. how “conspiracy theory” intersects with this other body of “theory”; 2. how this sort of theory has migrated to spaces outside the university, and 3. the insights this body of theory can offer about the concept of the outside(r).

Who is doing this?

My name is Geoff Shullenberger, and I’m a New York City-based writer and academic. My personal website is here, with links to my publications. A few of my previously published articles give an idea of what I’m interested in, and where this project came from:

  1. Birth of the Algorithmic Author“: argues that theories of writing and authorship have become newly relevant in the era of natural language generation software.
  2. The Irony Poisoner“: explores the legacy of the controversial literary theorist Paul de Man, especially in relation to internet irony and the rise of the alt-right.
  3. The Scapegoating Machine“: on the influence of the cultural theorist René Girard on Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel, and the broad political ramifications of their relationship.

Follow this project on Twitter @OutsiderTheory.

Follow my personal Twitter account @daily_barbarian.