Conference Agenda

Overview and details of the sessions of this conference. Please select a date or location to show only sessions at that day or location. Please select a single session for detailed view (with abstracts and downloads if available).

Session Overview
SP10: Understanding Risk and Uncertainty in the Anthropocene - with Linsey McGoey and Jens Zinn
Thursday, 22/Aug/2019:
9:00am - 10:30am

Session Chair: Matthias Gross, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ
Session Chair: Aiste Balzekiene, Kaunas university of technology
Location: BS.G.26
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Business School, Ground Floor Oxford Road

Session Abstract

organised by RN12 and RN22

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The Hierarchy of Ignorance: Corporate Impunity in Historical Context

Linsey McGoey

University of Essex, United Kingdom

This talk looks at the ways that corporations have historically evaded responsibility for harms to people and the environment. Drawing on the history of ideas and the growing genre of research known as ‘ignorance studies,’ the talk first examines early modern concerns about corporate impunity raised by late enlightenment thinkers such as Burke, Smith and Wollstonecraft. I then turn to the present era, exploring recent concerns over corporate malfeasance and global supply chains. I suggest the concept of a ‘hierarchy of ignorance’ is useful for examining the stratified ways that different stakeholders draw on strategic ignorance to their advantage. Finally, I make a number of general theoretical points about the value and utility of ignorance in corporate realms.


Linsey McGoey is an Associate Professor in social theory and economic sociology at the University of Essex. She is recognized internationally for playing a pioneering role in the establishment of ignorance studies, an interdisciplinary field focused on exploring how strategic ignorance and the will to ignore have underpinned economic exchange and political domination throughout history. She is author of No Such Thing as a Free Gift (Verso, 2015) and The Unknowers: How Strategic Ignorance Rules the World (Zed, 2019). She is a founding co-editor of the Routledge Research in Ignorance Studies book series, and is a member of the core editorial board at Economy and Society.

The Production of Nature: Towards a Risk-Taking Society

Jens Oliver Zinn

University of Melbourne, Australia

In scholarly and public debate the notion of nature is shifting from something that is naturally given and can be (freely) exploited, to being at-risk and in need of protection against technological and economic developments, to eventually considering nature as requiring active shaping and thereby necessitating risky decision-making or risk-taking under conditions of uncertainty. The presentation traces these developments in science and social science.

The announcement of the Anthropocene scientifically acknowledges the human influence on nature has become so substantial that it is justified to speak about a new geological epoch. In environmental sociology the dominance of a protective approach to nature has given way to a growing variety of approaches including strategies to restore nature in areas where it has already been destroyed. There are a number of branches in economics to find ways using market mechanisms for organising a more sustainable use of natural resources without substantially compromising economic growth. Indeed, many of these and other debates are complex and controversial. Climate change deniers and supporters of exploitative approaches of nature remain influential.

The presentation suggests, to the degree public debate and natural degeneration move towards a world where nature can no longer be merely protected but is increasingly actively produced and socially allocated, risk taking becomes endemic and secondary risks more frequent. In the conclusions I discuss social challenges and consequences of these developments.


Jens O. Zinn is Associate Professor in Sociology at the University of Melbourne and Guest Professor at the Sociology Department and the Risk and Crisis Research Centre at Mid-Sweden University. He researches how societies, organisations and individuals perceive and respond to risk and uncertainty. In a recent initiative he develops conceptual tools to better understand risk taking. In an interdisciplinary research project, he examines how language and the social combine in the changing discourse-semantics of risk. In 2015 the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation awarded him the Friedrich-Wilhelm Bessel Price. Zinn founded two international risk networks within the International Sociological Association in 2006 (TG04) and within the European Sociological Association in 2005 (RN22) and headed these networks for many years. In ‘Living in the Anthropocene: Towards a Risk-Taking Society.’ Environmental Sociology 2(4) he discusses environmental degeneration from a risk perspective.