Symposium Rationale

The Symposium will take place on the 1st and 2nd of December, 2022.

At its broadest, this Symposium unpacks the relationship between democratic politics and what we term ‘contrarian epistemologies’, i.e., relational ways of knowing rooted in a profound mistrust of, and an overriding suspicion about, the established, ‘mainstream’ forms of knowledge. This Symposium delves into three types of contrarian epistemologies without wishing to pre-define them too rigidly. The first, (1) conspiracy theories, is based on the belief that nothing is as it seems and all the events are orchestrated by some all-powerful, hidden forces. Second, (2) denialism, where scientific evidence that describes an undesirable or unpleasant reality is wholesalely rejected and lastly, (3) scepticism, where some of the scientific evidence is accepted but the significance or consequences of the matter at hand, as well as the meaningfulness of taking action to solve it, becomes confused. The novelty of the Symposium lies in bringing together these different ways of knowing and constructing political realities, which – despite their similarities – are rarely discussed in conjunction with each other. 

In recent years, multiple, multivariate and multi-sited conversations have been launched about the current crisis of liberal democracy. Many have implicated conspiracy theories, denialism and scepticism as important threats to democracy and, therefore, key contributors to this crisis. Especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, contrarian epistemologies have been recognised as not only preventing the addressment of pressing problems but further undermining democratic institutions and processes. Thus driving political polarisation to unprecedented levels and splitting societies into embattled tribes.   

This Symposium aims to broaden this perspective. In so doing, it attempts to diversify and complicate our understanding of the relationship between contrarian epistemologies and democratic politics. In particular, it asks whether contrarian epistemologies are external or internal to democracy. As such, this Symposium opens up a historical perspective to show the continuities in, and the persistence of, contrarian epistemologies throughout time: past, present, and possibly in the future. Furthermore, we want to take a wider look at the actors involved in producing and circulating contrarian epistemological stances. We transcend, but do not dismiss, the conventional focus on far-right, extremist and otherwise fringe and anti-democratic milieus by also casting a critical eye on, for example, traditional political parties, mainstream media, religious figures and institutions, as well as popular culture.  

To paint this critical and comprehensive picture, this Symposium will bring scholars together from a variety of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. These disciplines include: political theory and science; history; media studies; cultural studies; sociology; social and cultural anthropology; literature; gender studies, and environmental social sciences. 

The majority of the panels discussions will be held in the common room (3rd floor) at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Study (HCAS) at Fabianinkatu 24A, Helsinki.

There will also be a public event at Oodi, Helsinki’s central library, on the 1st of December at 5pm.

On this page, you will be able to find all of the key information about the events: including speakers, presentation abstracts, as well as schedules.

There will also be a webinar link streaming the events. This will be posted in November.

For additional information, contact:

Tero Toivanen at

Kinga Polynczuk-Alenius at