Assistant Professor of Political Science, Geoff Dancy
Assistant Professor of Political Science, Geoff Dancy, has enjoyed the symbiotic relationship that comes from working with Honors students. In his experiences co-teaching an Honors Colloquium on conspiracy theories with Professor Mirya Holman and directing Honors Summer Research projects, Professor Dancy has learned from—and alongside—his students.
COLQ-1020: “Political Conspiracy Theories” was a first semester Honors Colloquium co-taught last semester by Professor Dancy and Professor Mirya Holman, Associate Professor of Political Science. The course covered a wide range of theories throughout time, exposing students to those surrounding JFK’s assassination, Hurricane Katrina, and recent mass shootings. Despite the grim topics, Professor Dancy describes the course as “fun”—a great opportunity to engage with students on a much smaller scale than in a typical course.
Both Professor Dancy and Professor Holman drew on their personal experiences to teach the course, which also helped to guide their joint research project on the same subject. Dancy was raised in Shreveport, Louisiana, while Professor Holman grew up in rural Oregon, so both had exposure to theories during childhood—on the left and the right. Over the years, Dancy transitioned from a casual believer to a skeptical researcher, and is now working on a publication with Holman on where conspiracies come from and how they spread. The Colloquium, he says, often functioned almost like a “focus group,” where discussions of theoretical ideas helped the professors to develop or discard concepts, as needed.
Professor Dancy theorizes that the conspiracy theory “economy” looks much like the music industry: a handful of massive distributors and massive acts make a lot of money, while the rest struggle to get by. Alex Jones, the prominent conspiracy theorist at the helm of Info Wars, “is the Taylor Swift of the conspiracy industry.” Everyone else is fighting over the prize of creating a viral video or two—much like lesser-known music artists. A viral video will lead viewers back to the theorists’ websites, where they can sell t-shirts or books, or other, zanier items.
The broad purpose of the course was to teach students to approach all supposed-knowledge with skepticism. Many people, Dancy says—including those who don’t buy into conspiracy theories—go through life searching for certainty, and refuse to let go once they have found it. A scholar must be able to think more critically, and avoid “certitude” even in well-developed theories. The students in the Colloquium focused the same skepticism on Dancy and Holman’s theoretical ideas, with everyone learning from the experience.
Professor Dancy has enjoyed this symbiotic relationship with Honors students in his research in other areas, too. Tulane junior Tess Martin conducted research for him last summer, funded by the Honors Summer Research Grant. She has now trained four other undergraduate Research Assistants for the project. For their part, Tess and the other assistants have learned how the research process works, which will likely play a role in Honors Theses and, potentially, in their broader academic and professional careers. Professor Dancy, meanwhile, benefited from the insights and persistence of the students, without whom he couldn’t have completed his project.
Tess, Professor Dancy describes, spent her time combing through legal and news reports for mentions of domestic state prosecutions of human rights cases. She followed up on mentions, and gathered as much information as possible about each case. The aim was to discover whether a given state would prosecute more human rights cases themselves after the International Criminal Court intervened there. The results indicated an answer in the affirmative, and will be published in the American Journal of International Law.
Whether inside the classroom or outside of it, Professor Dancy values working with Tulane Honors students because of the contributions they make, and the two-way academic exchange they can forge with professors.
All faculty interviewed recommend a book that they find compelling and important.
Professor Dancy’s reading recommendation is Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. The book explores the difficult process of writing, arguing that the key is to persevere—one step at a time. In this way, writing becomes a little easier, but no less rewarding.