By Erol Saglam

Abstract: Since the beginning of 2020, unprecedented socio-economic consequences of the ongoing COVID- 19 pandemic have been felt across the world. Both the governmental measures and the reactions to these measures implemented in each context have displayed considerable degrees of difference regarding how social lives are to be re-organised in the face of this seemingly global phenomenon. Intensifying existing inequalities alongside structural inequalities and racism, the process has also revealed its gendered reverberations. Various preliminary reports from public bodies in the US, Italy, and China indicate that the ongoing pandemic affects men more as they get infected, hospitalised, and killed at significantly higher ratios than women. Even though medical research often underlines the robustness of female immunity vis-à-vis that of men, it also hints at the possibility of social factors involved, such how men uphold more cynical views that lead them to often downplay the severity of the issue at hand, engage in more (socio-epidemiologically) risky behaviour, and circulate conspiracy theories to socially spread narratives that undermine the efficacy of public health directives. Combining the findings of previous ethnographic research on masculinities with current statistical data and reports, this paper explores the prevalence of conspiracy theories among men to understand the gendered reverberations of COVID-19 through a comparative analysis.

I particularly aim to understand how the circulation of conspiracy theories around the origin, spread, and impacts, and containment of viruses generates socio-political and corporeal implications in gendered ways in Germany, Turkey, and the US. I delineate conspiracy theories as narratives striving to reveal the “secret machinations” behind readily visible forms (e.g., pandemic being a “bioweapon” to rule the world or consequence of “the planned 5G technology”). Exploring how medical arguments and instructions are challenged despite the severity of the implications for public health, I focus on how men circulate conspiratorial narratives to question the authenticity of the pandemic, to undermine governmental policies, and to downplay its potentially fatal effects. Unlike other psychological-philosophical studies, however, I do not approach conspiracy theories simply through their untruthful qualities or as reflections of the narrators’ “inability to grasp a well-connected world”. I rather explore conspiracy theories as social practices through which men forge themselves as knowing subjects, approximate potency, and engender socio-political effects.

Keywords: masculinity, conspiracy theories, COVID-19, political subjectivity, politicization

Erol Saglam is a social anthropologist working on conspiracy theories, treasure hunts, and masculinities. Following his doctoral studies at Birkbeck, University of London with his research on Greek-speaking communities of Turkey, he worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Stockholm University, working on his project on the everyday makings of authoritarianization. His publications deal with re-configurations of Islamic piety, everyday dynamics that forge and maintain cis-heteronormative masculinities, how socio-cultural distinctions are accommodated in public, and the challenges ethnographic praxis faces in contemporary world. Alongside his interdisciplinary collaborations for heritage preservation, his current project explores the interrelationship between masculinities, conspiracies, and changing configurations of statecraft. –