Sub-theme 42: Ignorance, Technology, Power: The Organization of (Non-)Knowledge in a Digital Era ---> MERGED with sub-theme 61


Call for Papers

This sub-theme invites contributions that explore the intersection of ignorance, technology and power. Ignorance encompasses a full array of significations, from genuine lack of knowledge to “organised ignorance” (Knudsen, Grønbæk Pors, & Bakken, 2023) or deliberate non-knowledge (Gross, 2007). We are especially interested in “practices of obfuscation and deliberate insulation from unsettling information” (McGoey, 2012, p. 555) and seek to investigate how ignorance is shaped through technological structures and practices of power.
Ignorance has been studied in many forms. For example studies have explored willful ignorance (Alvesson, Einola, & Schaefer, 2022), functional stupidity (Alvesson & Spicer, 2016), and practices of unseeing (Grønbæk Pors & Johnsen, 2017) . McGoey (2012, 2019) has investigated a specific kind of ignorance- strategic ignorance- that is wielded by organizations and others in positions of power to their benefit. But ignorance is not always so sinister. Studies have shown that people prefer not to know in many situations (e.g Gigerenzerk & Garcia-Retamero, 2017), and in any case, one cannot know everything, so everyone is ignorant of something. Ignorance is even protected in law in the form of trade secrets (e.g. Hannah, 2005; Moore & Tumin, 1949), patents, and intellectual property, and it is even best practice in certain circumstances, such as scientific experimentation (Polit, 2011). Ignorance, then, is all around us, in ways that are sanctioned and unsanctioned, seen and unseen, productive and destructive. In that sense, ignorance can be investigated as collective (Plesner & Justesen, 2022) or non-human practices or through its material implications (Van Portfliet & Fanchini, 2022). Because it is common and pervasive, ignorance will have a profound impact on the organization of the future, and when looking to the crossroads, we must take account of how it can be shaped, harnessed and transformed via technology and power.
With the rise in “smart technology” people and organizations are increasingly connected and have vast knowledge at their fingertips. At the same time, we see a rise in “fake news” (Gelfert, 2018) and counter-narratives that are put forward to conceal truth. Indeed, it has been pointed out that the sheer volume of “knowledge” that is now available to us via technology makes life more transparent, but also more opaque, as we are unable to process all of the available data and must choose what to ignore (Bernard, Koch, & Leeker, 2018). Technological structures and imaginaries shape and define what counts as truth-telling (Agostinho & Thylstrup, 2019), but so does the perception of the individual. As individuals and organizations navigate towards an uncertain future, knowledge and ignorance pave their path in equal measure.
Knowledge is power, but only if it is a limited resource. Ignorance, then, is not the vast void of things yet to be discovered, but is something cultivated and wielded by those in power (e.g. McGoey, 2012, 2019). Multinational companies, for example, are in a favourable position to exploit ignorance as a kind of intangible resource where smaller businesses may struggle to keep anything secret. Strategic ignorance ‘rules the world’ as McGoey argues (2019). We see it used in ways, such as the Osterich Instruction: when executives engage in deliberate ignorance to perpetuate unethical or unlawful behavior (McGoey, 2019), and in whistleblowing cases like Enron and Theranos where those in power were exposed after keeping others ignorant of their activities. The conditions for this “oracular power” still need to be fully unveiled (Arnold, 2022), but according to Steffestun and Otto Ötsch, ‘the market’ is a key concept to understand what is considered legitimate and illegitimate knowledge in a society and ignorance, too, is subject to processes of economization (Steffestun & Otto Ötsch, 2022).
Our aim in this sub-theme is to explore the intersection of power, technology and ignorance as it relates to organizations. We welcome papers from a range of theoretical and empirical approaches and from different cultures to discuss the possible topics and questions that could include but are not limited to the followings:

  • How will organizations of the future wield ignorance to their advantage? Can this be done in ethical ways?

  • The intricacies of technology and digital media in the fabric of new forms of ignorance. How does technology facilitate ignorance now?

  • AI and ignorance: what kinds of issues raise these advanced forms of technology as regards with the circulation of knowledge/ignorance ? Or other relevant questions.

  • The productive role of ignorance – when is willful blindness necessary and good for organizations as well as society?

  • Education to ignorance: how do organizational members learn what to ignore?

  • Ignorance as a performance in the CEOs’ denial of responsibility

  • Is there a difference between ‘elite’ forms of ignorance and ignorance of the masses?

  • Strategic ignorance at the meta-organizational level of regulatory agencies: is there such thing as too big to investigate?

  • Methods to study/investigate/unveil ignorance.



  • Agostinho, D., & Thylstrup, N. B. (2019). ‘If truth was a woman’: Leaky infrastructures and the gender politics of truth-telling. Ephemera, 19(4), 745–775.
  • Alvesson, M., Einola, K., & Schaefer, S. M. (2022). Dynamics of wilful ignorance in organizations. British Journal of Sociology, 73(4), 839–858.
  • Alvesson, M., & Spicer, A. (2016). The stupidity paradox: The power and pitfalls of functional stupidity at work. Profile Books.
  • Arnold, P. (2022). Oracles, ignorance and expertise: The struggle over what not to know | Ephemeral Journal. Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organisation.
  • Bernard, A., Koch, M., & Leeker, M. (2018). Non-Knowledge and Digital Cultures › meson press. Meson Press.
  • Gelfert, A. (2018). Fake news: A definition. Informal Logic, 38(1), 84–117.
  • Gigerenzerk, G., & Garcia-Retamero, R. (2017). Cassandra’s regret: The psychology of not wanting to know. Psychological Review, 124(2), 179–196.
  • Grønbæk Pors, J., & Johnsen, R. (2017). Looking Away: Practices of Unseeing and Organisation in China Miéville’s The City and the City. In The 33rd EGOS Colloquium. Copenhagen, Denmark.
  • Gross, M. (2007). The Unknown in Process: Dynamic Connections of Ignorance, Non-Knowledge and Related Concepts. Current Sociology, 55(5), 742–759.
  • Hannah, D. R. (2005). Should I Keep a Secret? The Effects of Trade Secret Protection Procedures on Employees’ Obligations to Protect Trade Secrets. Organization Science, 16(1), 71–84.
  • Knudsen, M., Grønbæk Pors, J., & Bakken, T. (2023). Organised ignorance. Ephemera : Theory & Politics in Organization, 23(1).
  • McGoey, L. (2012). The logic of strategic ignorance. The British Journal of Sociology, 63(3), 533–576.
  • McGoey, L. (2019). The unknowers: How strategic ignorance rules the world. Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Moore, W. E., & Tumin, M. M. (1949). Some social functions of ignorance. American Sociological Review, 14, 787–795.
  • Plesner, U., & Justesen, L. (2022). Digitalize and deny: Pluralistic collective ignorance in an algorithmic profiling project | Ephemeral Journal. Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization.
  • Polit, D. F. (2011). Blinding during the analysis of research data. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 48(5), 636–641.
  • Steffestun, T., & Otto Ötsch, W. (2022). Economization: The (re-)organization of knowledge and ignorance according to ‘the market’ | Ephemeral Journal. Ephemera.
  • Van Portfliet, M., & Fanchini, M. (2022). How to study strategic ignorance in organizations: A material approach | Ephemeral Journal. Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization.