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Ignorance Related Concepts - a Short Lexicon

Following are a few ignorance related concepts, select definitions, and the names of researchers who coined or modified the concepts (in alphabetical order by concept). We attempted to capture some of the changes over time by cross-referencing them. Bibliographic references can be found on the Resources page. To suggest a concept to add to the lexicon, please contact us.

Agnoiology - the theory of ignorance

Coined by James Frederick Ferrier, a nineteenth-century St Andrews' philosopher who at the same time also coined the concept of 'epistemology' (Ferrier, 1854). The use of the concept of epistemology is now widespread, whereas agnoiology did not meet the same uptake.

Agnotology - the cultural production of ignorance and its study

Crafted by Iain Boal (a linguist) in 1992 following a request from Robert Proctor (2008:27). Proctor and Schiebinger (2008) explore agnotology in their aptly named book 'Agnotology'.

Collective Avoiding - the social organization of denial

Norgaard (2006), for example, explores collective avoiding of relevant information in relation to climate change as a socially organized way of coping with helplessness and threats to identity. See more work on denial and collective avoiding in Norgaard (2006, 2011) and Zerubavel (2007).

Concerted Ignorance - the social construction of cover up

See Katz (1979), also cross-linked with Strategic Ignorance.

(Scientific) Cultures of Non-knowledge - the specific set of practices by which different scientific fields or (sub-)disciplines both consciously and unconsciously generate, acknowledge, define, react to and communicate non-knowledge

See Böschen et al. (2006, 2010).

Forbidden Knowledge - knowledge considered too sensitive, dangerous, or taboo to produce

Explored in science by Kempner et al. (2011), including a review of the contested conceptualizations of 'forbidden knowledge'. In a typology and dynamic model proposed by Gross (2010:68), forbidden knowledge is under 'negative knowledge'. In a typology and dynamic model proposed by Gaudet (2013), it is under 'latent non-knowledge'.

Ignorance Economy - complementary to knowledge economy and involving the production, the distribution, and the consumption of ignorance and lack of information

Roberts and Armitage (2008) developed the concept of ignorance economy that they advanced would be of particular interest for economists, managers, scientists, and policymakers. The authors argue that "the knowledge economy is one wherein the production and use of knowledge also imply the creation and exploitation of ignorance, for not only knowledge but also ignorance now play a main role in the formation of advanced global capitalism" (2008:345). Also see High (2012:122-123) in the context of social scientists engaging in the scientific ignorance economy (i.e., competing ignorance claims in grant review dynamics).

Ignorance Mobilization - the use of the borders and the limits of knowing towards the achievement of goals (Gaudet, 2013:7)

See ignorance mobilization website and application in Gaudet and Czub (2012). Coined by Gaudet as complementary to the widely used 'knowledge mobilization' concept.

Nescience - "absolute or intransitive ignorance" (Martin, 1985:24)

Martin (1985) adds that nescience is a desirable, but unattainable condition and can be further defined as "...the state of being unacquainted with a cultural archive" (1985:24). Also see Gross (2007, 2010) who defines nescience as the complete absence of knowledge (2010:68).

Nichtwissen - ignorance in the German language

See discussion of the intricacies in translating from German to English, starting with Simmel's original use of nichtwissen (Simmel, 1906:444, 448) in Gross (2007:745-746).

Nonknowledge (Non-Knowledge) (variable) - including use as a sub-type of ignorance, or used instead of the concept of ignorance

Subtle variations for non-knowledge include two types of specified ignorance: nonknowledge ("knowledge about what is not known but taking it into account for future planning" (Gross, 2010:68)) and negative knowledge ("knowledge about what is not known but considered unimportant or even dangerous; can lead to nonknowledge" (Gross, 2010:68)). Gaudet (2013) suggests active non-knowledge for the former and latent non-knowledge for the latter (with respective definitions) in her knowledge and ignorance mobilization model. Other variations include those by Japp (2000), Boeschen et al. (2006), and Beck and Wehling (2012).

Not-knowing - (variable) to not have epistemic knowledge or to not have knowledge through the senses; not necessarily a problem to be corrected, but can also be understood rather as an active state to be engaged (Berthoin Antal, Forthcoming) or a precondition of a hierarchal social system (Dilley, 2010:174)

See Last's (1981) classic article, "The Importance of Knowing about Not Knowing", and variations of not-knowing in numerous anthropology works including Dilley (2010), Berthoin Antal, Ariane (Forthcoming), as well as contributions in High et al. (eds.) (2012), in Littlewood (ed.) (2007), in Gershon (ed.) (2000), and in Hobart (ed.) (1993). In one example, Berthoin Antal (Forthcoming) with her work on using multiple senses to engage with ignorance proposes that "[n]ot-knowing may appear antithetical to management because at first glance the concept is equated with doubt and inaction. Organizational action is presumed to require knowing. By contrast, the practice of artistic interventions in organizations reveals that not-knowing can be a resource. It can help to make doubt generative by motivating ‘a search for understanding’ because ‘living doubt is necessary to energize inquiry’ (Locke, Golden-Biddle, Feldman 2008: 908)."

Science-based ignorance or "man"-made ignorance

Coined by Jerry Ravetz in the 1990s. Understood within the social construction of ignorance, science-based ignorance is “ absence of necessary knowledge concerning systems and cycles that exist out there in the natural world, but which exist only because of human activities” (Ravetz 1990:217). Also see the Sociology of Scientific Ignorance (SSI) below. Gross (2007, 2010) proposed the 'house of the unknown' model to account for ignorance-related (and nescience) dynamics in science. Gaudet (2013) further developed a dynamic model of ignorance and knowledge mobilization in science.

Sociology of Scientific Ignorance (SSI) - the study of ignorance in science as complementary to the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (SSK)

See Stocking and Holstein (1993, 2009), Wehling (2001), Gross (2007, 2010), Frickel et al. (2010), Hess (2009, 2010, 2011), Kempner et al. (2011), and Gaudet (2013). Related 'science-based ignorance' (Ravetz, 1990s), 'specified ignorance' (Merton, 1987), 'ignorance mobilization' (Gaudet, 2013), 'forbidden knowledge' (Kempner et al., 2011), '(scientific) cultures of non-knowledge' (Böschen et al, 2006, 2010), and 'undone science' (Hess, 2010; Frickel et al. 2010).

Specified Ignorance (complementary to Unrecognized ignorance) - to recognize what is not yet known but needs to be known with a goal to lay the foundation for yet more knowledge

Developed by Merton (1987) in his study of the sciences (within the sociology of scientific ignorance, see above).

Strategic Ignorance - variations of consciously avoiding knowledge from emerging in the first place

See specific definitions, uses, and empirical applications in a multitude of disciplines, including work by Katz (1979), Messick (1999), Carrillo and Thomas (2000), Gershon (2000), McGoey (2012), and Rappert (2012). Related 'intentional ignorance' in Kaptchuk (1998).

Structural Ignorance - the systemic generation of ignorance

Variations of the concept are used by several researchers including Moore and Tumin (1949), Gershon (2000), Sullivan and Tuana (2007), Frickel et al. (2009), and Steyn (2012).

Undone Science - "areas of research that are left unfunded, incomplete, or generally ignored but that social movements or civil society organizations often identify as worthy of more research" (Frickel et al., 2010:444)

Hess (2010) developed the concept in his study of underfunded and even suppressed cancer complementary and alternative (CAM) therapies (2010:6). See Hess (2009, 2010) and Frickel et al. (2010) for applications and theoretical development. In a typology and dynamic model proposed by Gross (2010:68), undone science is under 'negative knowledge'. In a typology and dynamic model proposed by Gaudet (2013), it is under 'latent non-knowledge'.

Veil of Ignorance - unaware of the talents or status one will inherit at birth

Explored in the context of social justice by Rawls (1971).

Sociology of Ignorance - La sociologie de l'ignorance - Soziologie des Nichtwissens

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