Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Uncertainty and Non-Knowledge in Economics and Sociology

Prof. Dr. Ekaterina Svetlova


The first part of the project is dedicated to the problem of radical uncertainty and non-knowledge in economics. The discussion about this topic usually revolves around the work by Knight and Keynes (at times also by Hayek and Shackle) ignoring the most recent interesting efforts to handle the issue; the comprehensive review of the state of the art and the methodological reflection of what has been achieved in the last 20 years have been lacking till now. The goal of this project part is to write an extensive article which sets out to fill this gap.

I argue that the radicality of uncertainty and non-knowledge is not sufficiently considered in the economic theory because the exploration of the social nature of uncertainty has been widely neglected so far. Within the genuinely social context of economic life, economic events are unique and non-repeatable because they are often endogenous to the decision processes of agents and are dependent on the actions and thinking of other market participants. This definitely implies more than just the Keynesian “beauty contest”. Some information is not available at the time of decision and cannot be searched, obtained or processed a priory in principle.

How then do economic agents cope with those challenges in the practices of markets? It seems crucial to find out what are the attitudes of market participants towards uncertainty, non-knowledge and calculability of the future. In this part of the project, I will first explore possibilities of incorporating some sociological analysis about how decisions are produced in social settings, for example, how future events appear in processes of negotiation and imitation (e.g., Knorr Cetina and Brügger 2002; MacKenzie and Millo 2003, Beunza and Garud 2007; Beunza and Stark 2010). Those analyses demonstrate that, when dealing with uncertainty, agents rely not only on numerical calculations but also on social frameworks and practices; this fact should be incorporated into the economic debate about uncertainty and non-knowledge.

In this second part of the project,I will gather some new and further explore already existing qualitative materials (interviews, notes from the participant observation) to tackle the issues of sociality of uncertainty and non-knowledge. An empirical work of this nature is still a methodological novelty for economics.