Digitalize and Deny: Pluralistic Collective Ignorance in an Algorithmic Profiling Project

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The digital transformation paradigm, marked by optimistic tech determinism, pushes contemporary management to constantly consider the usefulness of cutting-edge digital technologies for their organizations. When experiments with such technologies fail, the same optimistic tech determinism seems to play a role in actors’ denial of that failure. Based on an ethnographic study of a public organization, this paper analyzes an empirical case involving an unsuccessful digitalization flagship project. Despite encountering fundamental problems and clearly failing to fulfill its promises, the project was allowed to continue, and daily work took place unabated. This study explores how managers, project managers, and employees reacted to the numerous problems and failures related to the project in both the development and implementation phases. Our paper is situated within the literature on organizational ignorance and denial, and it advances the concept of ‘pluralistic collective ignorance’. Inspired by science and technology studies, the term ‘pluralistic collective ignorance’ is developed to account for the diversity in how organizational members ignore a phenomenon and the diversity of actors who do so. Tech optimism seems to prevent otherwise reflective actors from asking certain kinds of questions about technological solutions. However, as it is often unknown whether a digitalization project will have a positive impact in practice, it remains on open question whether denial should be viewed as supportive or destructive for organizational development.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEphemera: Theory & politics in organization
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)19-48
Number of pages30
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Published online: 01 November 2022.


  • Ignorance
  • Denial
  • Digitalisation
  • Tech optimism
  • Predictive algorithms
  • STS

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