Workshop: Ignorance and non-knowledge: what consequences for democratic governance, politics and policy?

When: November 13-14, 2018
Where: University of Vienna, Austria

Confirmed keynote speakers:
Linsey McGoey (University of Essex),
Matthias Gross (University of Jena, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ),
Stefan Böschen (RWTH Aachen).

Call for papers
Ignorance and non-knowledge have become the subject of a growing body of research in the social sciences and humanities, giving rise to a new “sociology of ignorance.” In this line of thought, ignorance is not merely a consequence of the limits of our knowledge practices, but a knowledge practice in its own right. Concepts such as McGoey’s ‘strategic unknowns’ also challenge the assumption that power thrives only on information: In this perspective, ignorance and non-knowledge are often actively produced, cultivated, and exploited as a resource and a strategy.

While engagements with ignorance and non-knowledge have become more salient over the past decade, there are different conceptual understandings of these phenomena across disciplines. To begin with, sociologists of ignorance have highlighted the importance of nonknowledge practices as a resource for industry actors. Moreover, political sociologists, such as Matthias Gross, have recently made more explicit links between Beck’s concept of ‘risk society’, ignorance studies, and contemporary governance of risks and security. From a slightly different perspective, political scientists approach uncertainty – sometimes termed ‘contingency’ – as an inherent condition or even mechanism of governance, rather than an instrumentally negotiated outcome of governance.

This workshop takes these different understandings and concepts as points of departure and seeks to spark an interdisciplinary dialogue. In doing so, we seek to enhance our understanding of non-knowledge practices and their consequences for democratic governance, politics and policy. We expect issues of ignorance and non-knowledge to be particularly pertinent in areas such as environmental policy and climate change, the regulation of financial markets, public health, migration, research governance, and the governance challenges arising in response to increasing digitalization and automation, to name but a few. Specific questions of interest are:

• What relevance do different understandings of ignorance, contingency and
uncertainty have for the study of governance?
• What practices of governing unknowable or unknown objects, and futures, can be
discerned empirically?
• What strategies of action or inaction do non-knowledge and/or uncertainty provoke
on the part of governance actors, and where and how can we identify such strategies?
• How do non-knowledge practices challenge or reinforce governance practices?
• What taxonomies of knowledge practices emerge in particular case studies and policy
areas, and what do these practices mean for our understandings of governance in
contemporary democracies?
• How are unknowns and uncertainties currently addressed in different policy arenas
and research practices, and with what consequences?

We invite scholars and early-career researchers to explore these questions conceptually,through empirical case studies in different fieldwork settings, or both. This may includeperspectives from a range of disciplines, such as political science, anthropology, sociology,geography, history and STS.

We envisage a small workshop, with sufficient room for comments and discussion.
There will be a public panel discussion with Matthias Gross, Stefan Böschen and Ulrike Felt (tbc) and practitioners on November 13. Day 2 will feature a keynote by Linsey McGoey.

Abstract submission
Abstracts should be submitted as a Word document to, no later than 31 August 2018 and should contain approximately 250 words. In addition, pleaseinclude your title, your position and institution, and explain in 3-5 sentences what yourspecific interest is in the topic to focus our attention to particular issues or themes. We willnotify you if your abstract is successful by mid-September. If accepted, we will ask you tosubmit an extended abstract (i.e. 1000-2000 words) in advance of the workshop (mid-October), to be shared with other participants. The sharing of these short papers will helpinform a productive discussion.

The workshop is organised by Katharina T. PaulIngrid MetzlerErik Aarden(University ofVienna), and Helene Sorgner (AAU Klagenfurt). The Key Research Area ‘Knowledge societies in turbulent times’ (Faculty of Social Sciences) of the University of Vienna has generouslyagreed to co-fund the workshop, and additional funding will come from the FWF AustrianScience Fund (Grant #VA561).

We anticipate a publication composed of selected papers from the workshop in an interdisciplinary social science journal.

Attendance is free of cost to invited participants. Lunch and refreshments will be provided on both days, and there will be a networking and social event on the evening of the 13th November. Regrettably, we are unable to fund any bursaries.

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