Estimating Ignorance: Revelations, Expertise, and Counts of the Dead

24 Jan 2013
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

470 Stephens Hall

Event Type

Brian Rappert
Professor, Sociology and Philosophy Department, University of Exeter

Revelations purport to put on display, disclose, and detail the inner working of what was previously opaque, obscure, or secret.  Because it has long been a matter of fascination and enigma, the machinations of statecraft have been the subject for revelations.  From leaks, to Freedom of Information requests, to WikiLeaks, individuals have sought to bring to the public what was only known to some.

This presentation considers the dynamics of revelation in relation to one topic: the number of civilian deaths stemming from the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  More specifically, it examines how individuals and organizations have worked to become both knowledgeable and ignorant of the harms of armed conflict.  In various ways, the UK government contended the number of civilian deaths stemming from the 2003 Iraq invasion could not ‘reliably’ be known.  The twists and turns of official public statements are interpreted against the back region government and civil service deliberations obtained under the British Freedom of Information Act and WikiLeak releases.  Far from settling what took place, however, this material compounded the challenge of trying to characterize different strategies for manufacturing ignorance.

Considering these issues, this presentation maps the complications and tensions associated with knowing about ignorance. In particular it attends to how the analysis of ignorance hazards being associated with the production and magnification of it. From an examination of the choices, contingencies, and challenges in the way social scientists and others depict ignorance, this presentation then considers future possibilities for inquiry whereby social analysts can question their ignorance while questioning claims of ignorance.

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