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The IMF failure that wasn’t: risk ignorance during the European debt crisis

British Journal of Sociology

Published online on


--- - |2 Abstract This article builds on ignorance studies to revisit how we understand the role of expertise in international policymaking. A fundamental component of ignorance is concealing what you know. For experts, risk ignorance is a strategic resource when the policymaking process becomes a contested exchange. This article covers IMF lending programmes in Europe in 2008–13 with a special focus on Greece. Empirical data is drawn from policy documents. I find that risk ignorance at the IMF resulted from a joint process of ‘private alteration’ and ‘public obfuscation’: the alteration of normal scenarios of debt sustainability in private negotiations worked in tandem with the obfuscation of programme risks in the public stage. The empirical contribution of this article is to show that the ‘failure’ of the IMF programme for Greece can be reconceptualized as ‘success’. The immediate goal of the programme was to bailout Greece’s creditors and avoid the breakup of European monetary institutions. In this respect, the programme was successful. But success came at a huge cost for Greece. Analytically, this article suggests that knowledge procurement based on empirical fact‐gathering is not always the ultimate goal of international organizations and the communities of experts working within them. - 'The British Journal of Sociology, EarlyView. '