"Visual Agnotology: Visual Production and Maintenance of Ignorance" by Chloe Hansen

    “Visual Agnotology: Visual Production and Maintenance of Ignorance”

    Chloe Hansen

    Relationships between knowledge and the visual continue to receive scholarly attention and deservedly so in our image-driven age. However, the flipside of those relations – the relationships between ignorance or not-knowing and the visual – has not been as explicitly addressed. This visual rhetoric and visual culture project draws on the concept of agnotology – the study of the social construction and maintenance of ignorance – to examine the roles of images in producing and perpetuating the absence of knowledges. Considering the three forms of ignorance explored in existing agnotology scholarship – recognized gaps in knowledge that we work to fill; overlooked or forgotten areas of knowledge; and areas of knowledge foreclosed by strategic plot – I examine some of the ways artifacts give visual form to the unknown or unknowable, specifically focusing on Colin Powell’s 2003 address to the UN Security Council. My goal is to begin to address a dearth in visual rhetoric literature on ignorance by demonstrating that visuals play a central role in constituting “unknowability,” thus limiting the conditions of possibility for knowledge. By considering not only what is made known or knowable via images but also what is erased, marginalized, denied, or otherwise made unknowable through visual representation, this exploration of visual agnotology works to expand understandings of visual rhetoric and conceptions of the knowledge work done by visuals more broadly.

    • Debating Visual Knowledge