On not knowing and paying attention: how to walk in a possible world

Timothy Ingold* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    11 Citations (Scopus)
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    Knowledge and wisdom often operate at cross-purposes. In particular, wisdom means turning towards the world, paying attention to the things we find there, while with knowledge we turn our backs on them. Knowledge thrives on certainty and predictability. But in a certain world, where everything is joined up, nothing could live or grow. If a world of life is necessarily uncertain, it also opens up to pure possibility. To arrive at such possibility, however, we have to rethink the relation between doing and undergoing, or between intentional and attentional models of action. I show how attention cuts a road longitudinally through the transverse connections between intentions and their objects. Where intention is predictive, attention is anticipatory. And if the other side of prediction is the failure of ignorance, the other side of anticipation is the possibility of not knowing. The idea that predictive knowledge demands explication perpetuates the equation of not-knowing with ignorance. Education, science and the state are powerful machines for the production of ignorance. I argue, however, that ignorance and not-knowing are entirely different things. In a world of life, not-knowing betokens not ignorance but the wisdom that lies in attending to things.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)20-36
    Number of pages17
    JournalIrish Journal of Sociology
    Issue number1
    Early online date17 Mar 2022
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2023

    Bibliographical note

    Open Access via the Sage R&P Agreement
    I am most grateful to the organisers of the workshop Walking Conversations: The Art of Paying Attention, or, Non-Procedural Methodologies – Maggie O’Neill, Ger Mullally, Arpad Szakolczai, Deirdre de Bhailis, Maggie Breen, Elaine Ni Loinsigh and Brendan Tuohy – for the opportunity to present the keynote address. This text is composed of fragments, some of which are extracted from previously published works, most notably my books The Life of Lines (2015), Anthropology and/as Education (2018) and Imagining for Real (2022).
    The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


    • attention
    • generations
    • knowledge
    • possibility
    • wisdom


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