Scope of the book
1 The view of unexpected events and crises as windows of opportunity for change in the regimes of ignorance is a quite prevalent one, with undeniable potential for emancipation of social actors, which gives value to critical thinking. In this book, our aim is not as much to deconstruct this linkage but to take it under discussion, and indicate phenomena taking place in the social sciences in relation to the manner in which we perceive unexpected events and crises. To give one example, in ignorance studies, the window of opportunity standpoint is influenced by the close connection between the study of ignorance and unexpected events and crises. The latter constitute an essential component of contemporary ignorance research, which to a considerable extent is empirically built on surprises and disruptive occurrences. These, we underline, are different from risks and unintended consequences typically taken as empirical cases by earlier paradigms in social sciences, for instance. The fact that ignorance studies speak about the unexpected (Portes, 2000), and not about the unintended (Mica, 2018) or risk society (Beck, 1992, 1999), confers this field certain privileges. Ignorance, surely, is rendered more visible. One sees more clearly how the encounter with and realization of ignorance subsequent to unexpected events or crises unfolds. At the same time, the focus on unexpected events and crises renders ignorance studies subject to certain vulnerabilities.
One of the aims of this book is to make more explicit that there is a kind of symbiosis between ignorance studies and the research sites this field embraces because of the so-called revelation of ignorance often discussed in such studies. We live today in a society of unexpected events and crises, rather than one of unintended consequences and risks. This plays well with the analytical and research needs of ignorance studies because it opens a venue wherein a variety of mechanisms of ignorance are revealed and highlighted in all their splendour. Ignorance is being discovered, confronted and ultimately transformed. This relation and the analytical ramifications that it inevitably involves, we argue, should be articulated in ignorance studies more explicitly.
2 Another constitutive part of our argument is that the concept of the window of opportunity for change in the context of unexpected events and crises should be described more precisely in relation to ignorance. Besides creating certain projections and expectations of change, the formulation of a window of opportunity manifests distinctly in particular fields of knowledge production. To put it simply, it appears as if the window of opportunity is tantamount to a distribution of roles in the process of change. The media, for instance, are more frequently linked with the opportunity to raise awareness. Public policy - with the opportunity for policy change. Politics - with the opportunity for new agenda setting. Academic research - with the opportunity to produce new and critical knowledge.
We suggest that the problem of change of ignorance should be sensitive to the differentiation in the distribution of opportunities across the fields of knowledge production. The overall change of ignorance materializes slower or faster depending on how these opportunities are framed, invested in, and supported with resources. The forms of knowledge elicited by the unexpected events and crises vary, too. Academic research, for instance, is expected to produce new evidence as well as contestation and critical thinking. Media, in their turn, are supposed to engage in framing and produce forms of legitimization for the narrative coming from the field of politics, while public policy is thought of as a source of policy framing and is expected to be involved in policy learning.
These forms of knowledge allow the overall change of ignorance to emerge. At the same time, they set the change of ignorance on a certain treadmill, so to speak, and create certain projections and expectations in this regard. As a formula, opportunity for change is concerned not only with the potential for change but also with the forms of projective knowledge that emerge in relation to it. The forms of projective and anticipatory knowledge are triggered by the very nature of the unexpected events and crises, in the context of which the revelation of ignorance occurs. They have a performative and agentic potential in the sense of opening windows of opportunity to produce new evidence, to raise awareness, and to bring policy change in relation to learning and similar areas. Simultaneously, they provoke a certain impatience and contestation of the change which actually occurs. These forms of projective and anticipatory knowledge are simply too big, too ambitious, too impatient about change, and too ready to dismiss it.
Various authors are currently working on developing an analytical framework for exploring this phenomenon of the tendency to dismiss change in the context of unexpected events and crises. Taleb (2007), for instance, opens up our eyes to the phenomenon of the black swans
which are retrospectively believed to be anticipatable. Grabel (2018) discusses the continuity thesis in relation with the global economic crisis of 2007-2008. Best (2019a, 2019b) explores so-called unfailures, or quiet failures - that is, failures that seemed to be big, large scale, and meaningful but which eventually may disappoint their observers. Finally, Scholten (2020) considers public policy that has the tendency to derail and which is quickly contested in terms of the reactions it triggers. All these authors observe the same phenomenon of dismissal of change. Their work is ground-breaking and it presupposes analytical intuitions embedded in distinct theoretical disciplines. Our aim is to articulate in a more theoretically consistent manner that this observed tendency of dismissal of change occurs in relation to projective and anticipatory forms of knowledge that are triggered in the context of unexpected events and crises.
3 This leads us to the last point concerning the scope of this book: the advancement of an interactional approach to the problem of ignorance change. We aim to advocate the need for a serious discussion about the projections, expectations, and contestations of change, and we hope to showcase this need by addressing the issue of the change of ignorance. Our approach will help to shed new light on the production and reproduction of ignorance. We will approach this not by filtering ignorance from the projections and biases accompanying these processes though but by treating the projections and biases as an integral part of change and by including them in the analysis. A change of ignorance, we argue, is not a story about ignorance undergoing change or not. It is rather a story about the interaction between ignorance and other forms of knowledge - projection, expectation, and contestation of change included. Instead of dealing with the problem of (meaningful) change by diminishing these forms, or separating ignorance from them, we propose embracing and including them in the analysis.
The interactional approach to the problem of ignorance may take varied forms. Within the framework of this book, we begin by exploring mainly the ignorance-related effects of the interaction between ignorance and forms of knowledge such as projection but also contestation, framing, legitimation/ pre-legitimation, and learning. We probe this interactional approach in relation to academic research, the media and public policy in the context of the European refugee crisis in Poland, Hungary, and Romania. Yet it must be emphasized that the interactional approach may move beyond the focus on ignorance per se. As we show in relation to projection, we are able to advance analytical and genealogical varieties of the interactional approach by focusing on the mechanisms of projection and the elaboration of new projections in the context of the crisis, as well as on the role of ignorance in these processes. The genealogical-cum-interactional approach in particular allows for the understanding that one of the main modalities in which ignorance changes in the context of the crises is by elaboration of new projections and the reification of new futures. This genealogical approach also has the great analytical advantage of bridging exploration of the future and the elaboration of possible futures (the projective dimension of agency), as illustrated by the pioneering work of Emirbayer and Mische (1998) and Mis-che (2009, 2014), with the currently proliferating ignorance studies, also in relation with migration (Boswell and Badenhoop, 2020).
On the theoretical side, the interaction between ignorance and forms of projective and anticipatory knowledge means that in order to understand the change of ignorance, we have to zoom out from it. On the practical side, the interaction entails that if we want to change our ignorance - the way we think and talk about things - we have to change our future.