Dec 3 Linsey McGoey Pyrrhic Ontologies: On Social Theories that Eat Themselves

Dr Linsey McGoey is Lecturer in Sociology at the university of Essex. Linsey McGoey est Maître de conférences au département de sociologie de l’université d’Essex. Page.

Pyrrhic ontologies: on social theories that eat themselves

First, the paper surveys recent what I term “varieties of strategies ignorance” – the multiple and varied ways that different disciplines, from philosophy to economics, have treated the productive uses of ignorance in organizational and social life. Surveying this literature, I suggest that analyses of strategic ignorance mirror the same disciplinary bifurcations that have hampered the study of knowledge production. Behavioural economists have tended to study the strategic use of ignorance at the individual level, while sociologists have emphasized the structural inequalities that render deliberate ignorance a powerful resource to groups whose power rests on the perpetuation of partial truths or deliberate misconceptions that masquerade as objective knowledge. To better understand this bifurcation, I introduce two conceptual heuristics: “pyrrhic ontologies” vs. “pirate ontologies.” Pyrrhic ontologies are theoretical worldviews which undermine their own political utility the more persuasive and accurate they turn out to be. I contrast these with “pirate ontologies:” theoretical worldviews that succeed in dominating new policy spheres or academic subgenres as a result of their empirical inaccuracy or uselessness in practice. 

Of interest in view of the workshop:

Books and Edited Collections

McGoey, L. (forthcoming) Masters of the Unknown: how ignorance rules politics and the market (Zed Books).

Gross, M. and McGoey, L. (forthcoming) Routledge International Handbook of Ignorance Studies

With Matthias Gross, Dr. McGoey is currently editing the first international handbook of ignorance studies. Drawing together scholars from the fields of law, biology, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, science studies and economics, the handbook, forthcoming from Routledge, investigates and illuminates the ways that the mobilization of ignorance can both threaten and facilitate the functioning of legal systems, military operations, financial markets and scientific development.

McGoey, L. 2012 (Editor) Strategic unknowns: towards a sociology of ignorance. Special issue of Economy & Society.


McGoey, L. 2012. « The Logic of Strategic Ignorance. » British Journal of Sociology 63(3) 553-576.

Davies, W and McGoey. 2012. « Rationalities of ignorance: On financial crisis and the ambivalence of neo-liberal epistemology. »Economy and Society, 41(1): 64-83.

McGoey, L. 2010. « Profitable failure: Antidepressant drugs and the triumph of flawed experiments. » History of Human Sciences, 23(1), pp/ 58-78.

McGoey, L. 2009. « Pharmaceutical Controversies and the Performative Value of Uncertainty. » Science as Culture, 18(2), pp. 151-164.

McGoey, L. 2007. « On the will to ignorance in bureaucracy. »Economy and Society, 36(2), pp. 212-235.