Agnotology and the Criminological Imagination

Part of the Critical Criminological Perspectives book series (CCRP)


In this chapter we reflect upon the concept of ‘agnotology’ and its usefulness for the expansion of a zemiological criminology. Initially presented as an analytical tool in the fields of science and medicine, agnotology explores the social and political underpinnings of forms of ignorance and their role in both generating and securing acquiescence in mass harms and crimes of the powerful. Typically originating within state-corporate symbioses of ideology, policy and practice, ‘crimes of the powerful’ include harms inflicted through health and safety violations, ‘security’, criminal justice, social and economic policies, war, disaster and environmental destruction. In each case real harms are obscured, denied or otherwise neutralised. Two cases of mass harm are presented here as examples. First, we discuss corporate constructed agnosis over the use of asbestos that has allowed corporations to kill hundreds of thousands yet avoid criminal justice. Second, we reflect on the Holocaust and the role of agnosis in this most extreme form of state-generated harm. Despite its scale, and in contrast with the attention from other disciplines, criminology has remained remarkably taciturn about this crime. We conclude that the central zemiological purpose of an imaginative criminology—the understanding of and struggle against major harm—cannot be undertaken without systematic and rigorous attention to ignorance.


Zemiology Agnotology State harm Holocaust Asbestos Ignorance Crimes of the powerful Resistance 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Law and CriminologyEdge Hill UniversityOrmskirkUK
  2. 2.Department of Social and Political ScienceUniversity of ChesterChesterUK

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