Anchoring and objectifying ‘neocortical warfare’: re-presentation of a biological metaphor in Serbian conspiracy literature
The paper examines an aspect of the rhetoric of conspiracy theory in the light of the social representations approach. It proposes that the theory of social representations can complement discourse-oriented methods in the exploration of rhetorical aspects of conspiracism. A specific example from contemporary Serbian conspiracy culture is examined in order to suggest that the processes of re-presentation, and more specifically anchoring and objectification (Moscovici, 1976, 1984b) play an important role in the continuous transformation of conspiracist ideology. The function of representation in conspiratorial rhetoric is explored on the way in which the metaphorical reference to ‘neocortical war’ in US military literature on information warfare was anchored into Serbian conspiratorial discourse, and eventually objectified, by being transformed into a literal allusion to brain manipulation. It is suggested that, as well as altering the meaning of the phrase ‘neocortical war’, the process of representation also created a more convincing and plausible way of formulating the idea of conspiratorial mass manipulation. The representation of ‘neocortical war’ is offered as an example of a more general discursive dynamic, which contributed to the proliferation of conspiratorial explanations in Serbia in the late 1990s. The proposed rhetorical aspect of representation is also used to recommend, in line with the arguments set out by Billig (1993;1988a), that rather than being reducible to individual cognitive functioning as some social representations research suggests, anchoring and objectification are products of discursive interaction and communication, reflecting the broader ideological and social functions of representation.