Fake News & the Anthropology of Ignorance (AnthrCul 298)
University of Michigan, Department of Anthropology
As reports of fake news & foreign interference in the 2016 election capture the American imagination, interest in the study of ignorance (“Agnotology”) has reignited. Rather than structuring itself around knowledge, this course flips the script. How does attending to the study of ignorance, rather than to the study of knowledge, allow us to better understand the world we inhabit? What precisely is ignorance? Is it simply the absence of knowledge? Or should we view it as its own domain of (non-)knowledge?
Students will trace the genealogy of ignorance in the ethnographic imagination—from classic debates about the capacities of the “native mind” to contemporary debates about Russian interference and the proliferation of fake news. Each session will offer a different lens to parse the multiple and often contested meanings of the term. In so doing, it will permit students various entry-points to explore major anthropological conversations and debates about: secrecy and initiation, memory and oblivion, ideology and power, racial privilege and denial, and dissimulation and (in)sincerity. These abstract concepts will be introduced to students through grounded ethnographic vignettes of everyday interaction.
During the semester, students will refine their analytical skills. Rather than taking ignorance at face value, they will be asked to critically engage the term. How can claiming ignorance, for example, be strategic? While power is often bundled with knowledge (“knowledge is power”), “ignorance” can also be harnessed to consolidate power and promote particular interests.
Past Teaching Experience
Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan
Graduate Student Instructor
Fall 2019 & Fall 2016: Critical Theory in Medicine & Healing
Winter 2017 & Fall 2015: Introduction to Anthropology