2010-11 Pembroke Seminar

"The Power and Mystery of Expertise"
David Kennedy
Chesler-Mallow Senior Faculty Research Fellow, Pembroke Center

The significance of expertise for rulership today is easy to see – in the vernacular of national politics, the management of international economic life, the arrangement of family and gender relations, and more. But what is “expertise?” What part knowledge, what part common-sense --- what portion analytics, argument, lifestyle, character? Expertise is often associated with professional or disciplinary formations – how important are these institutional forms to the practice and reproduction of expert rulership? How does expertise write itself into power?

The aim of the seminar was to develop components of a general model or theory of expertise. We encouraged a wide range of interdisciplinary studies which shed light on the following sorts of questions:

  • How do more and less conscious components of expert knowledge function? Is there a “langue” and a “parole” to expert argument? What are the components of expert knowledge, how do they operate – linguistically, ideologically, practically? How significant are elements like “distinction,” “difference” or “decision?”
  • How do expert analytics relate the looser patois of expert analysis, commentary, opinion? How much is prejudice, group-think – or useful rules of thumb and default judgment?
  • How are expert and lay practices and knowledges intertwined? What can we say about the rise and fall of expert self-confidence or prestige as various “expertises” come in and out of fashion in different domains of life?
  • How do new modes of expertise arise, assert themselves? What of the people whose projects are pursued through expertise – projects of affiliation and disaffiliation, wills to power and to submission?

The seminar brought together scholars approaching these issues from multiple fields of inquiry – historical studies of expert vernaculars and professional practices; cultural study of the languages of governance and the management of the subject; philosophers interested in the operations of language and rhetoric, science studies scholars who look at ways expert knowledge gives power to scientific claims; sociologists of the professions and of contemporary practices of power. We particularly encouraged participation by scholars from professional fields inquiring into the modes of their own rulership.