April 2021
contemporary

The Unknowers

By Linsey McGoey
Originally published by Zed Books

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'The definitive book for our times on what makes strategic ignorance so 'strategic' in the hands of the powerful'
Steve Fuller, author of Post-Truth

'What a tour-de-force. Each chapter offers original insights into how strategic ignorance and deliberate uncertainty keep those at the top in power'
Susan L. Robertson, University of Cambridge

'A fascinating exploration of the many ways in which our societies are built on strategic lack of knowledge'
Counterfire 

Deliberate ignorance has been known as the ‘Ostrich Instruction’ in law courts since the 1860s. It illustrates a recurring pattern in history in which figureheads for major companies, political leaders and industry bigwigs plead ignorance to avoid culpability. So why do so many figures at the top still get away with it when disasters on their watch damage so many people’s lives? Does the idea that knowledge is power still apply in today’s post-truth world?

A bold, wide-ranging exploration of the relationship between ignorance and power in the modern age, from debates over colonial power and economic rent-seeking in the 18th and 19th centuries to the legal defences of today, The Unknowers shows that strategic ignorance has not only long been an inherent part of modern power and big business, but also that true power lies in the ability to convince others of where the boundary between ignorance and knowledge lies.

Linsey McGoey is a writer and sociologist based in the United Kingdom. She has written for the GuardianThe Times, the SpectatorJacobin and Fortune, is author of No Such Thing as a Free Gift (2015) and co-editor of the Routledge Handbook of Ignorance Studies (2015). She is currently a Reader in Sociology at the University of Essex.