The Cultural Production of Ignorance at Twenty


Geoffrey Hughes (University of Exeter)
Sam Shuman (University of Michigan)

When Londa Schiebinger and Robert Proctor began to develop a research program that approached ignorance not as the absence of knowledge but rather as a social construct, they were drawing on a deeper history of theorizing knowledge and power imbalances grounded in feminist, anti-racist and anti-colonial thought. However, they were also wedding the insights of these critical traditions to a focused set of questions grounded in the social studies of science and technology. The results seem to have been incredibly fruitful, but what intellectual genealogies might be occluded in the process: how might the study of ignorance produce its own forms of ignorance? And how might renewed attention to the study of ignorance (“agnotology”) shed light on the contemporary moment, as reports of “fake news” and “post-truth” capture the American imagination?

This panel seeks to bring together ethnographers working around the world on issues surrounding truth, intimacy, and disclosure in a range of cultural contexts. We seek to unearth the labour at the heart of this constant, more generalized production of ignorance that constitutes sociality in so many contexts while also theorizing why science and technology remains a privileged site for the study of ignorance. Focusing on unexpected entanglements between expertise and the everyday, we seek a wider conversation that revisits earlier work on secrecy, false consciousness, bad faith and ideology in their many guises.

We hope to generate conversation around topics related to ignorance and its relationship to (including, but not limited to):

  • Bad faith & sincerity
  • Denial & deniability
  • Disclosure, dissimulation, & secrecy
  • Doubt
  • False consciousness
  • Ideology
  • Knowledge brokering
  • Memory & forgetting
  • Objectivity & intimacy
  • Oblivion & the unconscious
  • Opacity claims
  • Power/knowledge
  • Transparency & Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
  • Truth, “post-truth,” & “fake news”

If you are interested in participating in this session, please send a paper abstract (250 words) to Geoffrey Hughes ( and Sam Shuman ( by March 27.