Public secrets in public health: Knowing not to know while making scientific knowledge

Working in Africa with public health researchers— sharing goals, respecting science, enjoying company—Wenzel Geissler was time and again struck by our faculty to unknow our daily confrontation with inequality.

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These inequalities are open to
experience but remain often unacknowledged in
public speech and scientific texts. This silence is not
usually achieved by suppressing knowledge but
through linguistic convention and differentiation
between places and moments of knowing and
ignorance. Switching between known and unknown
according to situation and interlocutor is an
important, largely implicit skill that maintains
relations necessary to conduct clinical
research—linking bodies, lives, institutions, and
technologies across differentials of resources,
expertise, and power. Unknowing, then, facilitates
research; and it shapes the resulting work and
perpetuates the political and economic
contradictions that pervade the context and the
research endeavor itself.

Published Apr. 25, 2013 4:17 PM