Tackling the Corona pandemic: Managing nonknowledge in political decision-making

In Matthias Gross & Linsey McGoey (eds.), Routledge International Handbook of Ignorance Studies (2nd edition). London: Routledge. pp. 211–220 (2022)
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During the corona pandemic, politicians have been forced to make urgent decisions under pressure while balancing between challenging options: protecting citizens’ health or causing major social and economic difficulties through security measures. Part of the dilemma has been whether the chosen security measures are oversized, causing fundamental economic and social problems, or not sufficiently enough, thus putting people’s lives at risk. In illustrating our discussion with actions taken by press conferences (PCs) of the Finnish Government, we discuss how nonknowing has governed political decision-making in the corona crisis and how tackling the pandemic has required politicians and experts to develop a capability of dealing with the epistemic conditions of nonknowledge. When information about the virus was constantly updated, the epistemic states of ‘not-yet-known’ or ‘partly-known’ substantially affect the rhythms in which political decisions are made in managing the spread of COVID-19. We suggest that Prime Minister Marin and her cabinet developed a policy of epistemic humility where the legitimation of decision is not based on scientific knowledge but rather on the temporality of nonknowing. The crisis created a favourable momentum for addressing issues of nonknowing in politics, which are easily kept outside of the public attention.

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