Are we all experts? – On re-faming and de-framing expertise and its use in society

Ulrik Jørgensen

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference abstract in proceedingsResearchpeer-review


    By declaring the need for a third wave in science and technology studies Harry Collins has fuelled a new controversy. While the argument for (re-)gaining a productive role for STS in societal controversies over development and change is well taken, the new approach to expertise does not bring us much further. The ‘periodical table of expertise’ returns to knowledge practices as something that resembles widely distributed skills, though with differences in depths. The concept of expertise is hereby ‘naturalised’ and looses some of its critical role in societal discourse. By stating that we are all experts, but in different fields of practice, some in handling language, others in plumbing, playing musical instruments, or in practicing a scientific discipline, the notion looses its specific meaning. All just to get to the final conclusion: some of us are half-learned just having rhetoric knowledge of the real thing – practicing science. In the paper expertise is analysed in relation to how expert are constituted through the need for specific types of advice within politics and management. Being an expert may in some few cases be a self-declared role, but experts and expertise cannot be understood in a general and non-contextualised setting. The paper draws on examples of the role of expertise in some scientific controversies ranging from hygiene strategies to climate change as well as in management and economic policy. It contrasts the use of expertise in relation to professional advice for government, in public debates and in news media, where expert are often used as an objectifying third party to settle certain questions and displace them from political controversy. This empirical approach raises questions to the consequences of ‘naturalising’ expertise. My point is more than a relativist argument, but is an attempt to situate expertise as framed knowledge that is already part of an instrumental approach to understanding and solving problems. In most professions expertise is related to specific problem settings. Experts find themselves in conflicts more based on differences in the ways problems are stated than in relation to the practices and knowledge related to their expertise. Harry Collins distinction between the different levels of expertise is challenging as its opens for tests and experiments, but at the same times removed the focus from the context of knowledge and removes the ability of identifying the framing conditions and differences in problem settings as a different kind of meta-expertise. The critical stand on expert knowledge and scientific discipline as specific forms of framing is not just a question of having rhetorical skills in handling the lingua of a field of practice. It has the potential of establishing a critical understanding of disciplinary work and practiced expertise within a scientific domain. Hereby science and technology studies does offer more than some rhetoric and managerial meta-expertise, but offers a critical and comparative perspective and societal useful knowledge on how problems and knowledge based solutions are constituted and sometimes co-constructed within specific visions for social change and control.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publication4S annual meeting book of abstracts
    Publication date2010
    Publication statusPublished - 2010
    Event2010 Annual Meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science - Tokyo, Japan
    Duration: 25 Aug 201029 Aug 2010


    Conference2010 Annual Meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science
    Internet address


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