Sophie Ledebur
ifk Research Fellow

Duration of fellowship
01. October 2018 bis 31. January 2019

Knowledge of the Unknown. On the Emergence and Functional Logic of the “Dark Figure” in the 19thCentury


The term “dark figure” can be said to refer to a statistic of hidden but still presumably real occurrences. It gives a name to something that tends to both evade general knowledge, and to induce angst. As a figure of suspicion, this produces a suggestive surplus. In an indeterminate space, oscillating between knowledge, nescience and foreboding, talking of a high number of unreported cases contributes both to the statistics promising objectivity, and anticipated danger. The central question is how the “knowledge of the unknown” advanced to become a research area of its own, thus opening new fields of intervention. The aim of this project is to write a history of governance under the omen of danger. In doing so, I hope to contribute to the history of the practices of governance from the perspective of the (un-)knowing.


Sophie Ledebur is a historian. From 2006 to 2009 she was a member of the graduate research group „The Sciences in Historical Context“ at the University of Vienna, and held a „Writing-Up“ Predoctoral Fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Dep. III). She received her doctorate in 2012 and published her thesis „The Knowledge of Institutional Psychiatry in the Modern Era: toward a history of the asylum Am Steinhof“. From 2009 to 2015 she was a member of the DFG research group „Kulturen des Wahnsinns. Schwellenphänomene der urbanen Moderne“. She then went on to attend a visiting fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Dep. II). Most recently, she was a Fellow at the Center of Excellence „Cultural Foundations of Social Integration“ at the University of Konstanz in 2017/18.


gem. mit Monika Ankele und Céline Kaiser, Aufführen – Aufzeichnen – Anordnen. Wissenspraktiken in Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie, Heidelberg 2018; Das Wissen der Anstaltspsychiatrie in der Moderne. Zur Geschichte der Heil- und Pflegeanstalten Am Steinhof in Wien, Wien, Köln, Weimar 2015; gem. mit Alexander Friedland, Rainer Herrn und Johannes Kassar, Bühnen des Wahnsinns. Inszenierungen psychischer Alterität (=Special Issue. Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte 37, 2014).

21 January 2019
  • Lecture
Sophie Ledebur


Die Dunkelziffer ist eine Figur des Verdachts. Mit ihr werden Ängste geschürt und Ressourcen mobilisiert. Aktuell fordern Politik und Wissenschaft auf nationaler und internationaler Ebene umfangreiche Dunkelfeldstudien. Sophie Ledebur fragt nach der Genealogie des Phänomens des unentdeckten Verbrechens.