Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Agnotology as opposed to epistemology. Cultural creation of ignorance as opposed to cultural creation of knowledge. Whole new field of Sociology for me. Social theories of ignorance. Sparked by an article in the Inside Higher Ed Online newsletter Plenty to Go Around by Scott McLemee Great quote "Poverty fosters ignorance. But affluence, it seems, does it no real harm" The idea that selective ignorance is an important basic social process.
"Any sufficiently rigorous line of agnotological inquiry must, however, recognize that there is more to ignorance than political manipulation or economic malfeasance. It also serves to foster a wide range of social and cognitive goods."

McLemee quotes Michael Smithson's "Social Theories of Ignorance" and the notion of academic specialization as a form of distributed ignorance. Tried to get this article but not available through Fielding Library database.

Led to further exploration and came across and article by Turner and Michael What do We know about the I don't knows" Talking about the construction of Likert scales in questionnaires. The practice of offering a choice of "don't know" is problematic. Responses are often eliminated from analysis when they could represent a broad range of possibilities. Like I'd prefer not to say" or "none of the choices reflects my opinion on this issue" or "ambivalence, political considerations, implicit PC values are embedded in the questions and the respondent is avoiding censure.
Good discussion of the taken-for-grantedness of scientific knowledge. Also a discussion in the context of agnotology.

McLemee, S. (2008). Plenty to Go Around :: . Inside Higher Ed: Intellectual Affairs. Higher ed online newsletter, . Retrieved June 25, 2008, from

Smithson, M. (1985). Toward a Social Theory of Ignorance. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 20:4, 323–346, 20(4), 323-346. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-5914.1985.tb00049.x.

Turner, J., & Michael, M. (1996). What do we know about "don't knows"? Or, contexts of "ignorance" . Social Science Information, 35(1), 15-37. doi: 10.1177/053901896035001002.

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