Agro-Agnotologies: Productions of Power and Ignorance in Industrial Agriculture

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups:
Poster #:
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Maryland A, Marriott, Lobby Level
Organizers: Jennie Durant, Abigail Martin
Chairs: Jennie Durant


This session explores the role of ignorance in constituting the knowledge infrastructures upon which agri-food systems rely. At the broadest level, we explore the production of ignorance in the development of industrial agriculture. A handful of studies reveal how current systems of agricultural production rely upon the disregard, omission, loss, or neglect of certain types of knowledge. For instance, research on honeybee die-offs reveals how the epistemic forms generated by US agri-chemical regulation limit what counts as scientific knowledge, and create ignorance about which agrichemicals are toxic to bees (Kleinman and Suryanarayanan, 2015, 2013). The production of ignorance has also fundamentally shaped trade in agricultural goods. Since the advent of grain grades and standards, agricultural producers, traders and consumers have benefited from knowledge infrastructures that make commodities fungible by hiding a crop’s origin (Freidberg, 2017). This now presents a challenge to food companies seeking to verify crop origin to satisfy certification requirements, such as for organic or non-GMO products (Freidberg, 2017).

In this session, we bring together researchers from political and cultural geography, science and technology studies (STS), and environmental governance and agrarian studies to shed light on other cases of ignorance production in agriculture. We build on insights from the larger scholarship on agnotology (Proctor, 2008)—the study of ignorance production—to examine ignorance as a constitutive aspect of knowledge production, something that is produced and sustained in knowledge practices. This includes cases of ignorance production that are conscious and intentional, as well as those that are unconscious and structural. Thus, we welcome conceptual and empirical contributions that address concepts such as “strategic ignorance” (McGoey, 2012), “undone science” (Frickel et al., 2010), or the “social production of ignorance” (Kleinman and Suryanarayanan, 2012). At the same time, we welcome papers that draw on critical approaches to examining ignorance as a form of knowledge power (Haraway, 1991) or as embedded in social contexts that produce the practices, norms, conventions, instruments and discourses, which constitute what we understand as scientific knowledge (e.g. Jasanoff, 2004).

Questions could include, but are not limited to:

1. In what ways are specific instances of positive knowledge production in agrifood systems linked to the production of ignorance (e.g. the routine collection and analysis of soil samples, economic indicators, or labor conditions)?

2. How do agricultural stakeholders contribute to productions of ignorance and what drives these processes?

3. How do the gaps of certain knowledge infrastructures map onto the distribution of power across supply chains, among producers, and between capital and labor?

4. How has the neglect of certain types of agricultural knowledge fueled particular forms of accumulation?

Please send any expressions of interest, questions or proposed abstracts (250 words maximum) to Jennie Durant ( and Abigail Martin ( Paper abstracts are due by October 19th. We will confirm participation by October 23rd.

Depending on the interest expressed, multiple sessions may be organized. Those accepted must complete the abstract submission and conference registration process before October 25.


Freidberg, S., 2017. Trading in the secretive commodity. Econ. Soc. 46, 499–521.
Frickel, S., Gibbon, S., Howard, J., Kempner, J., Ottinger, G., Hess, D.J., 2010. Undone Science: Charting Social Movement and
Civil Society Challenges to Research Agenda Setting. Sci. Technol. Hum. Values 35, 444–473.
Haraway, D., 1991. A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century, in: Simians,
Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. Free Association Books, London, pp. 149–183.
Jasanoff, S., 2004. The idiom of co-production, in: Sheila Jasanoff (Ed.), States of Knowledge.
Kleinman, D.L., Suryanarayanan, S., 2015. Ignorance and industry: Agrichemicals and honey bee deaths, in: Routledge
International Handbook of Ignorance Studies. pp. 183–191.
Kleinman, D.L., Suryanarayanan, S., 2013. Dying Bees and the Social Production of Ignorance. Sci. Technol. Hum. Values 38,
Kleinman, D.L., Suryanarayanan, S., 2012. Dying Bees and the Social Production of Ignorance. Sci. Technol. Human Values 38,
McGoey, L., 2012. The logic of strategic ignorance. Br. J. Sociol. 63, 553–576.
Proctor, R., 2008. Agnotology: A Missing Term to Describe the Cultural Production of Ignorance (and Its Study), in: Proctor, R., Schiebinger, L.L. (Eds.), Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance. Stanford University Press, Stanford.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Jennie Durant*, University of California, Berkeley, The Label is the Law: Productions of Ignorance about Bee Toxic Agrochemicals 20 8:00 AM
Presenter Patrick Baur*, University of California, Berkeley, Safe knowledge, dangerous ignorance: The co-production of systemic blind spots in agrofood safety design and implementation 20 8:20 AM
Presenter Annie Shattuck*, University of California - Berkeley, Contesting Harm: Agrochemicals and Agnotology on a Commodity Frontier 20 8:40 AM
Presenter Abigail Martin*, , Confronting ignorance in agricultural value chains: Carbon intensity calculations for biofuels production 20 9:00 AM
Discussant Susanne Freidberg Dartmouth College 20 9:20 AM

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