secrecy and epistemophilic others

Kirsch, Thomas G. 2015. Secrecy and the Epistemophilic Other. In Regimes of Ignorance. Anthropological Perspectives on the Reproduction of Non-Knowledge, edited by Kirsch, Thomas G. & Roy Dilley. Oxford: Berghahn, 188-208.

It is often taken for granted that human beings are epistemophilics; that is, that they have ‘a natural desire to know’. Georg Simmel, for instance, in his celebrated work on secrecy and secret societies makes the universalist claim that, ‘In general, men credit themselves with the right to know everything which, without application of external illegal means, through purely psychological observation and reflection, it is possible to ascertain’ (1906: 455). However, as the present chapter aims to show, this naturalizing emphasis on epistemophilia produces its own blind spot, namely the fact that the assumption that humans are epistemophilics is itself a cultural construction. Suspending this assumption allows a reconsideration of basic categories of social scientific thought, such as ‘the secret’.