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Towards pragmatic, ecological and political app roaches to expertise

Pour une Approche pragmatique, écologique et politique de l’expertise
Hacia un enfoque pragmático, écológico y político de la experticia
Marc Barbier, Lionel Cauchard, Pierre-Benoít Joly, Catherine Paradeise et Dominique Vinck
Cet article est une traduction de :
Pour une Approche pragmatique, écologique et politique de l’expertise [fr]
Autre(s) traduction(s) de cet article :
Hacia un enfoque pragmático, ecológico y político de la experticia [es]

Résumés

L'article propose un regard rétrospectif sur l'étude et la critique sociologique de l'expertise. La recherche s'est concentrée sur son rôle dans la société, sa légitimité et ses liens avec les connaissances universitaires. Comme sa légitimité et sa crédibilité ont été remises en cause par la controverse et la question des conflits d'intérêts, la recherche s'est intéressée à ses liens avec le fonctionnement de la politique et des marchés, ainsi qu'à la manière de devenir expert et à la pratique de l'expertise en situation. L'expertise est alors étudiée comme une pratique sociale qui combine savoir-faire, savoir-comprendre et savoir-combiner, pour traiter une situation problématique. L'article rend compte de la constitution de deux orientations de recherche : l'une traite de la constitution conjointe des énoncés et des infrastructures dont dépendent leur création ; l'autre qualifie les situations dans lesquelles les connaissances ordinaires ne suffisent pas pour former un jugement ou trouver une solution. Il traite également des transformations des lieux d'expertise (l'émergence des think tanks notamment) et de leurs pratiques (en particulier le système de Check and balance et l’advocacy), ainsi que des politiques (démocratisation technique) et des formes de gestion de l'expertise. Le texte vise à décentrer la manière dont l'expertise a été considérée comme appartenant aux scientifiques. Il propose plutôt une reconstitution des relations et des transferts de connaissances entre le monde académique et le monde « profane » (non-expert), entre la société et ses autorités respectives. L'article préconise une approche pragmatique, écologique et politique de l'expertise. En considérant l'expertise d'un point de vue pragmatique, il convient d'étudier l'hétérogénéité des pratiques, la transformation de la relation entre la connaissance et le pouvoir, dans laquelle la production de connaissances est liée à l'inclusion de différents groupes d'experts et à la création de nouvelles relations. L'approche écologique décrit les mécanismes de l'expertise et sa gouvernance, ainsi que la construction d'espaces de dialogue, ce qui permet de consolider les connaissances des experts dans différentes situations problématiques. Enfin, le texte donne un aperçu des modes d'existence de la politique d'expertise, de sa dimension institutionnelle et performative, et de sa régulation. L'article propose donc d'étudier les dispositifs d'expertise et les perspectives que les acteurs déploient en tant qu'experts.

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Texte intégral

Introduction

1The social sciences have been investigating scientific and technical expertise for over two decades. An increasingly steady stream of papers has been dealing with the construction of expert knowledge and how it is used to address various issues, including the processes of institutionalization of expert activities. Research has explored how expertise is involved in public policy issues or in decision-making in relation to various professions and sectors. It has also considered the links between expertise on the one hand and professional and academic knowledge on the other. It has studied the impact of expert professional knowledge on social segments of society or on society at large. Questioning expertise always means questioning the legitimacy of expert knowledge and its operationalization, and studying expertise always requires sorting out the specificities, arrangements, contingencies and operational tools from which it derives its legitimacy. Treating expertise as a social fact therefore always implies analyzing how norms and values, practices and power relationships transform and redistribute knowledge in society.

  • 1 As the focus of this special issue is on scientific and technological expertise, papers dedicated n (...)

2By studying expertise, the social sciences address issues pertaining not only to the intellectual interests of social scientists themselves (Benamouzig et al., 2011), but also to the management of research (Vilkas, 2009). Expertise is part of the so-called “knowledge society”, and as such underscores the fact of just how much modernity relies on knowledge production in the creation and organization of innovation. However, controversies and conflicts of interest, as expressed in trials or public debates, are weakening the trust in knowledge as a legitimate basis for expertise, and challenging the role of science and technology in the functioning of our societies and democracies. Social scientists are paying attention to such issues, sometimes on an interdisciplinary basis: they analyze how experts contribute to the functioning of polities or markets; they study how expertise is concretely built and used to address specific issues; and they clarify the social processes that select “the expert” and constitute him or her as a social figure. These questions largely justify the interest granted by the Revue d’Anthropologie des Connaissances to both empirical and theoretical papers on expertise1.

A retrospective outlook

3The sociological critique of expertise was first formalized in the work of Jürgen Habermas (1968) who distinguished three types of decision-making: decisionist (based on pure policy options), technocratic (choices are based on the available knowledge about constraints and evidences known to experts), and pragmatic (choices are based on the dialogue between experts and laypersons). The pragmatic model contrasts with the technocratic model, in which experts are mobilized to guarantee and sometimes mask the real motivations, challenges and consequences of decisions. During the 1970’s, the first work based on case studies of experts’ engagements in the public sphere emerged (Nelkin, 1975). Dorothy Nelkin (1979), for example, brought together a set of texts relating to experts’ activities, and studied their role in debates on technological choices that engaged the future of societies. In a comparative analysis of the antinuclear movement in France and Germany, Dorothy Nelkin and Michael Pollak (1981a) questioned the relationship between the apparatus of the state, experts, and civil society. In an article published in the same year (Nelkin & Pollak, 1981b), they compared the modes of regulation of technological innovations in France, Germany and the United States., They showed not only how experts constituted resources for public officers, but also that the mobilization of contradictory expert assessments, counter-evaluations and direct encounters between experts produced several effects: the opening up of an intermediary space of regulation between science and the state; the multiplication of resources to which scientists have access; and reconsideration of the public understanding of science, which is supposed to “tell the truth”. At the time, several studies denounced the social role of experts (Druet, Kemp & Thill, 1980) in connection with certain countries’ commitment to nuclear programs, and chief executive officers’ decisions regarding the management and computerization of their companies. In his work of 1981, Patrick Lagadec raised a critique of the non‑disputable character of experts’ advice and pleaded for accountability with regard to the variables mobilized and the uncertainty and risks associated with each scenario. He suggested that, in situations of uncertainty and risk, experts’ advice should “open up the discussion, not close it”. This implied that there was not only one way of mobilizing experts’ advice, but a number of ways, all of which had to be explored.

4Research in sociology developed field studies on expertise and experts’ advice during the 1980’s, at a turning point characterized by growing interests among scientists and policy makers in qualifications and competences in the labor market and organizations. With the early work of Philippe Fritsch (1985) dealing with situations of expertise and that of Catherine Paradeise (1985) dealing with the role of professions, expert’s advice was analyzed as a combination of authority - based on access to knowledge drawn from experimentation - and of trust - more or less generalized -, which was encapsulated in effective actionable knowledge expected by a profession having acquired a recognized status (Paradeise, 1988). French sociology thus drew attention to the study of expertise and experts’ advice to ground a more theoretical approach to this combination and its outcomes in terms of legitimated delegation of both the diagnosis and the decision (Paradeise, 1985). It endeavored to go further than the analysis of status or of the grands corps d’état in order to focus on the construction of skills (Trépos, 1992).

5Following this first movement, the exploration continued with a stream of introduced important analytical and theoretical proposals, with significant effects: the concepts of perception in configurations - which came with the emergence of a type of sociology that was later to be labelled pragmatic (Bessy & Chateauraynaud, 1995) - and of situation in the sociology of skills. There was a shift away from the focus on coordination by labour relations or market relations, to a focus on collective action as defined by a problem to be solved (Trépos, 2002). The activities of experts - in the sociology of work approach - or the situated action of expertise - in the sociology of action approach - were thus studied as social practices that enacted the combination of know-how, understanding and assembling in order to solve difficult problems in a complex situation.

6Two streams of work flourished at the time. One was to join the growing field of social studies of science and technology, which considered that the problem was not the status of knowledge itself in decision-making, but the joint constitution of advice and the infrastructures on which they were based. While the work of science studies on expertise are flourishing (Callon & Latour 1981; Rip 1985; Jasanoff, 1987), Sheila Jasanoff (1990) carried out a rich case study in the USA on the expansion of communities of experts within the world of decision making. She subsequently followed this up with the analysis of relations between the sphere of law and that of scientific and technological activities (Jasanoff, 1995), pushing back the idea of their total independence, with a view to initiating a debate on their co-evolution and their bonds of mutual dependence, particularly in situations of controversy (Limoges, 1993), on the relations between science and policies containing many paradoxes (Weingart, 1999), and on a large variety of styles in the mobilization of scientific experts (Renn, 1995).

7In the 1990’s, French work on expertise joined the field of studies on the practices of risk or crisis management initiated around environmental issues (Theys, 1991). This vision shook up the study of the established settings of public problem solving. It consequently became difficult to consider that the procedures of representative democracy sufficed to identify problems without ambiguity, that experts’ advice could establish a univocal and effective link between the identification of public problems and the implementation of the administration of their solving, and, finally, that the legitimacy of action lay in the theoretical separation between science and decision. There was a growing awareness that when situations of risk and the mobilization of citizens or consumerists, under the impact of crisis, undermines the belief in the objectivity of given scientific knowledge, the delegation to experts and thus their status become problematic.

8The other research stream preceded a more positive sociology of expertise by qualifying problematical situations as those in which ordinary knowledge was not sufficient to ground advice or to find a solution. It convened the expert, the legitimating institution, and laypersons. This stream of research mobilized and sometimes converged with the work of the sociologists of organization and bureaucracy, and that of political scientists investigating the contemporary transformations of the state. These developments fell within the exploration of the changes in the relationship between decision makers and those who could ground the goals and the conditions of their actions: experts. French society had for a long time lacked reactivity in taking major technological risks into account (Laufer & Paradeise, 1982). Research on the emancipation of expertise from the politico‑administrative order was concomitant with important changes that appeared in France in the 1990’s, and which put the rise of environmental issues and the perception of “social vulnerability” to risks on the agenda. These changes consequently generated tensions between the search for experts that was more independent of the corps d’état, and the search for democratic readjustments regarding scientific and technical choices (Lascoumes, 2002). The traditional model of expertise was thus destabilized in so far as the identification of problems and of the relevant experts could no longer be taken for granted. Studies of environmental crises, of sanitary crises and of industrial disasters highlighted the fact that uncertainty and democratic trends pertaining to scientific and technical choices challenged the legitimacy of delegating decisions to scientific or technical experts. Decision makers thus became cognizant of the problem. By considering that crisis and controversies were processes of informal assessment of technological choices (Rip, 1986), it followed that the focus had to be put on the understanding of the joint legitimacy of actors and of their statements in the evaluation of risks (Joly, 1999). Thanks to the organization of public debate settings (consensus conferences, citizen juries since the 1980’s in the countries of Northern Europe) and to the activities of agencies, new procedures of distributed expertise appeared, offering arenas of deliberation to heterogeneous actors and stakeholders. Discussion on the recognition of issues and the representation of real or theoretical risks was thus facilitated, which meant that it became possible to “negotiate the constraints of reality which decision makers will agree on” (Godard, 1997). This led to a phenomenon of desacralization of experts of the corps d’état and of ad-hoc scientific committees, and thus to the growing recognition of the legitimacy of the problems experienced by “laypersons” (Estades & Remy, 2003). Non-experts thus became experts of their daily activities, although of the legitimacy of their respective underlying knowledge remained radically asymmetrical (Blondiaux, 2008). It also resulted in the processes of expertise being considered as exploratory processes (Barthe, 2003), thus indicating strong proximities with the studies of controversies, of expertise and of procedures of technological assessment.

9All these intellectual developments took place at a time when the institutionalization of expertise, outside of the system of “state expertise” (Restier-Melleray, 1990), was becoming a public reform problem in France with the enforcement of the law on sanitary agencies, which introduced a radical reconfiguration of the situation. Moreover, the monopolization of experts by public authorities in the name of a doctrine of General Will had to come to terms with the existence of its various representations, according to types of risks and professional interests. In France, the contemporaneous socio-historical studies of public expertise bear witness to the underlying opposition between experts from universities and those of the corps d’état. These differences might have contributed to phenomena of de-sectorization peculiar to the crisis situations (Dobry, 1992) - medical crises and environmental crises in particular. What characterized traditional French expertise was its “decisionist or technocratic” nature, as Habermas (1973) would have put it. The identification of problems was taken for granted, without ambiguity, and the components of the national interest were fixed and certain. There were scientific committees but not public arenas, in the sense given to these terms by public policy analysis, followed by the sociology of sciences then of controversies (Callon, Lascoumes & Barthe, 2001; Kuty & Thuderoz, 2005).

10In this context, the future of practices of expertise was supposed to be “related to their capacity to become more democratic and to organize plural expertise (…) giving real place to lay members” (Lascoumes 2002, p. 377). The frontiers of expertise consequently became “increasingly fuzzy because of issues of collective action and democratization, pluralism and transparency, [which] tended to scramble their identification” (Cadiou 2006, p. 122). One can wonder about the consequences of this new deal on effective practices of expertise, their forms, their content and their agency, and on their relations to science in terms of the “definition of procedures of mobilizing knowledge and of deliberation within experts’ committees” (Joly 1999: 48). How do public authorities (at the national and international level), as well as citizens, firms and scientists, concretely take up these issues in terms of organizing the political spaces of expertise? What are the effects on the nature and the distribution of activities between participants, the repertoires of argumentation in use, the shifting of political arenas, and finally actions and their results? Should these new phenomena be seen as transcending the double delegation of citizens with regard to “science and political representation” (Callon et al., 2001, p. 312)? The questions raised by studies of expertise activities also prompted Sciences Studies to develop a renewal of their approaches and ways of envisioning the political consequences of their work (Rip, 2003)

11As the forms of public expertise in various national spaces were considered from more of a distance, comparative works appeared, in particular with the concept of a risk regulation regime (Roth et al., 2001) or that of regimes of knowledge production, notably in the field of biotechnologies (see for example Jasanoff (2005) and Gaudillière and Joly (2006)). Thus, in the United States, policy experts were present very early in the process of public administration. From the beginning of the 20th century they were seen as agents of rationalization of public administration, owing to the separation between administrative policy and democratic control (Lindblom & Cohen, 1979; Nelkin & Pollak, 1981a & b; Spenlehauer, 1999; Cadiou, 2006; Jouzel, 2009). Think tanks took on a growing role in the establishment of expertise as science and organization of government (Spenlehauer, 2003). They came in diverse forms, reflecting the pluralism and polarization of expertise in the USA (Cadiou, 2006). Expertise organized within these think tanks and other lobbying groups supported the normal forms of American democratic life, where the multiplicity of opinions made debate and negotiation major features of decision making in a system of checks and balances (Guston, 1999). This explains why the social sciences turned their attention to expertise as a specific but regulated and ordinary feature of advocacy. In this model of advocacy nobody had a monopoly on the resources provided by a given expertise, which fuelled political pluralism. The fact remained that polities were also traversed by asymmetries when it came to access to the arenas where regulations or avoidances were produced.

12Even within the practices of advocacy (Hilgartner, 2000), expertise still represented the possibility of a decentralized expression of opinions in a world where, unlike France, the concept of General Will as the formalization of overarching public opinion does not exist (Habermas, 1978 [1962]; Laufer & Paradeise, 1982). The effect of these US studies and the reception of another point of view on society had the effect of highlighting the dependence of expertise activities on the organization of the state’s administrative and political systems, and of clarifying a model of post-normal expertise (Funtowicz & Ravetz, 1993). This indicated the fact that taking complexity and uncertainties into account was an essential feature (and not the result of bias or misconfiguration of problems).

13The work of French political scientists went in this direction. They examined the functions, places and effects of expertise activities in situations of crisis or in the ordinary management of collective risks. Claude Gilbert (2003), for instance, distinguished the following three contemporary ways to manage risks and uncertainties using expertise in public policy making. (1) Expertise can initially help to manage the consequences of public authorities’ choices when the objectification of risk by technical experts or scientists is considered to be possible and when its articulation to decision making is useful for the reduction of risk. The work of the experts is then educational. (2) In a second configuration, expertise helps to manage confrontation between civil society and public authorities. This may be the case when civil society demands a role in agenda setting, in an antagonistic relationship to public authorities. The protesters appoint their own experts who, against those of the public authorities, use the knowledge they have produced to format the risk, with the aim of imposing it as a public issue. In this configuration, the role of “whistle blowers” and actors of civil society is crucial. The logics that prevail in the public sphere are those that drive the output of risk definition. (3) In a third context, risk is defined by sets of heterogeneous concerned actors, between whom the roles are not a priori distributed. Problem definition is thus a dubious output. The risks are constructed according to how they are shaped, by means of various types of “equipment”. The more risks are equipped (by statistics, reports, or committees of various types, etc.) the more they have an existence. Thus, the experts mobilized in these practices of equipping risks vary widely. The definition of risk can respond to a variety of interests, including institutional ones (extension, resourcing competencies, reorganization). By contrast with the “compensatory” view of public action, promoted by the first two models and whose objective is to set up mediatory settings, the third model is anchored in a design promoting autonomy, where each recipient of public action must also be an active feature of it (Granjou, 2003). In this “polyphonic” model, involving a wide diversity of concerned actors, all with their visions and their goals, the use of expertise has to come to terms with the necessity to ground new modes of governance and to regulate political arenas.

14When scholarly rationalities and lay rationalities are regarded as equally legitimate in the process of expertise, the founding relationships between expertise and scholarly knowledge is questioned. Two different visions of the role of contradictory expertise are expressed. On the one hand, the position defended by Roqueplo (1997) is that it is necessary to build stronger boundaries between science and policy, by way of an objective and contradictory expertise, with the view to obtaining “reasonable knowledge”. On the other hand, Michel Callon and Arie Rip (1991) suggest developing a political design to become an alternative to decisionist expertise, in the form of participative expertise. They see this as a matter of drawing conclusions from the fact that the boundaries between lay and scholarly knowledge became illusory, which necessarily challenges the argument that the specificity of scientific statements legitimates the primacy of experts. Thus conceived of as barded with legitimate knowledge, the experts fade behind the processes of multi-actor expertise, which become a central stake in negotiations. The focus is then less on the role of experts than on the performativity of situations of expertise and on the conditions of the making of the most robust arrangements between various arenas: scientific, regulatory, social, economical and political. The issue shifts to the “methods of organizing the process of knowledge production and to the measures to implement” in order to open them to a diversity of actors (Callon et al., 2001, p. 314).

15However, the number of empirical case studies remains low and analyses of “hybrid forums” often produce an irenic picture of relations between the concerned actors, characterized by a “lack of reflection on the limits of this kind of social interaction” (Joly, 2005, p. 153). Thus, Christine Noiville (2003), arguing against the current passion for “dialogical democracy”, defends her position in favour of a reinforcement of the role of the state in the processes of expertise. Others (Barbier & Granjou, 2005; Granjou &Barbier, 2010) propose to go beyond discourses denouncing “scholars” and to closely study the intrinsically composite nature of scientific expertise within expert committees. In fact, a porosity exists in the frontiers between science and policy: “all the sociologists of risk insist on the fact that scientific expertise inextricably binds objective scientific assessment and the account of various constraints - economic, hierarchical or corporatist -, and that the resulting expert advice is a mix of scientific results with opinions expressed about risk or about the delivery of assessment” (Hermitte, 1997, p. 88).

16From this debate, we shall bear in mind the advantages of evaluating more closely the practices and the effective dynamics of dialogical technical democracy (hybrid forum model), as well as the reality of the crumbling or reconstruction of boundaries between scholars and laypersons on the one hand, and between public authorities and civil society on the other. Just how far have expert committees and arenas, in which decisions are taken for the sake of society as a whole, modified their procedures and their composition to represent the diversity of their stakeholders? This is a matter of delivering an account of the situated work of “experts” (specialists as much as the representatives chosen to deliver expertise in the name of various interest groups) in political spaces of expertise. This work must clarify “the diversity of their epistemic cultures” (Joly 2005, p. 140), the common rules in use (Lamont, 2009), the impact of the specificities of local and national contexts on committed collectives of actors (Callon & Rip, 1991; Granjou 2004), the division of activities and the possible informal hierarchy of arguments of the various members of an expert committee (Debure, 2012).

Pending issues at the end of the “collective risk” research program

17The conclusions drawn at the end of 10 years of the “collective risks and situations of crisis” program afforded the opportunity to publish a substantive review of social sciences research conducted in France from the late 1980s under this program (Borraz, Gilbert & Joly, 2005). Discussions on the role, functions, forms and issues of scientific expertise were decisive in the decision to set up a critical analysis of the work carried out over a decade (Joly, 2005, 2007). It is now relevant to review that work and to recall the issues and scientific challenges identified thanks to it. Some of the contributions to this special issue extend these questions and open up new avenues for research, grounded on case studies of settings or situations in which practices of expertise are performed, along with their ways of being in varied social, professional and political configurations, and the forms of organization and legitimating authorities that frame their jurisdiction.

18Following this period, research on expertise was fostered by the encounter between the sociology of science and technology, the sociology of professionalization, and public policy analysis (Lima, 2009). A number of health crises (Chateauraynaud & Torny, 1999; Barbier, 2003) and the bureaucratization of expertise that followed (Benamouzig & Besançon, 2005) led to a series of changes, consequent to which the limits of the status and functions of experts were highlighted (Berrebi-Hoffmann & Lallement, 2009) and the opposition between experts and laypersons was challenged (Estades & Remy, 2003). This analysis was completed by long-range studies of the role of experts in the policy process (Bantigny, 2011). At the same time, different research projects focused on the role of stakeholders in expertise and in the policy process at the heart of participatory settings of public action (Blondiaux & Sintomer, 2002), as well as the organization of public debates on scientific or technological issues (Revel, Blatrix & Blondiaux, 2007; Sintomer 2007). These projects developed a critique of the political role of experts in such settings.

19Recently, the book edited by Bérard and Crespin (2010) is an important indication of the continuing work on expertise influenced by the legacy of Michel Foucault’s work on the relations between knowledge and power. Leaving aside the definitional struggles on what an expert and expertise is, these current studies consider the constitution and also the variations of the enunciation contexts of experts’ statements and activities. The relationship between these contexts and the systems of veridiction that are established outside expertise situations is one of the main interests of present empirical analysis. Processes of expertise are grasped through the analysis of situations in professional, organizational and institutional contexts, drawing attention to the biographical dimension of “becoming-an-expert”. The Revue d’Anthropologie des Connaissances intends to pursue this perspective by focusing on two important consequences of this renewal.

20The first consequence has been a departure from the idea of a dichotomy between scientific experts attached to research institutions, and professional experts attached to worlds of production. This dichotomy was generally based on the sociology of science, which tended not to view research and knowledge production as a profession, but to consider experts rather as academics who are grappling with the Weberian dilemma (Wissenschaft als Beruf). Science Studies have transformed this conception by the recurrent finding of multiple interests, commitments and attachments, and the boundary work of producers of knowledge, contrary to a Mertonian conception of science as an institution closed in on itself.

21The second consequence has been a departure from the conception of scientific expertise as the encounter between the institution of science and public decision-making. The configuration of expertise is characterized by the divide between academic practices and decision-making practices, which concomitantly grounds the legitimacy of experts and public authority. But it is also characterized by the effective hybridization of those practices in settings typical of situations of uncertainty or crisis, where those practices are particularly intricate because the situations are muddled and call for a solution (Barthes & Gilbert, 2005). This figure of modernity painted by Bruno Latour (1996) as a modern cult of the Factish Gods is taken up in studies of experts and situations of expertise, including the bureaucratization of scientific expertise in agencies. Hence, it is not so much the supposedly transgressive nature of expertise in practice (Roqueplo, 1997) that researchers are currently studying, as the way in which experts make their way into situations that arouse curiosity and interest.

22The “participatory turn” has shifted the focus on the state in action, to a focus on collective and distributed action. This shift has made it possible to detach studies of expertise from the fundamental questions of the relations between knowledge and power, or science and decision. This path was opened mainly by the seminal work of Brian Wynne (1996), who described these problem/ situations as a polyphony of knowledge and forms of legitimacy, including lay people who are the primary owners of expertise on the problems experienced.

23This suggests that the deconstruction of the “myths of expertise” identified by Arie Rip (1985) has been achieved, at least for social studies of science and technology and many political scientists, and that current studies are not compelled to make this critical detour. They focus much more on the use of this mystification as argumentative resources for legitimization. The booming use of experts is also attended by the generalization of discourses of denunciation, critique, and vindication concerning scientific experts. Yet the activities of expertise are increasingly important in contemporary societies; the proliferation of experts is a sign of the importance of the politics of discourses and of a verbose technical rather than dialogic democracy. The founding text of Callon and Rip (1991), which describes expertise as a device for mapping gradients of resistance (ibid., p. 232), remains enlightening. But it is always difficult to establish the conditions of this mapping and its performative effects. The study of situations of expertise calls for thorough contextualization to avoid reifying expertise or returning to considerations of cognitive or language differences believed to underpin radical differences between scientists and laypersons or semi-laypersons (Collins & Evans, 2002 and 2007).

Pragmatic, ecological and political approaches of expertise

24In the last decades, studies in the field of expertise have rarely analyzed the forms and practices of experts’ involvement from the point of view of the “experts themselves”, nor taken into account the diversity of contexts of expertise based on their particular scientific field of knowledge. The advent of the public agency system and its various derivatives has led many researchers, including basic researchers, to support the development of standards for public policy, alongside the traditional experts of large state bodies. The systematic use of the scientific expert in public policy has led to a focus on how the development of a typology of scientific expertise, the rules of expert conduct, and the rules guiding public decision making are articulated. In parallel, the professionalization of scientific expertise in the activation of regulatory sciences aims to establish sound public decision based on scientific evidence (e.g. with evidence based medicine).

25It is therefore relevant to ask the following question: “What is an expert?” What are the professional practices inherent to scientific expertise, its constraints and experts’? What are their professional trajectories? What are the relationships between cooperation, competition and predation between experts and their respective professional communities in the identification of ideas and issues (worth serious debate) and of knowledge that represents “legitimate” material to be explored? What types of critical or reflective discourse enlightens the conditions, products, and outcomes of expert practices? The aim is thus to explore the tensions at work in the practices of expertise within a variety of contexts.

A pragmatic approach to expertise

26Experts’ inputs take place in the final stages of a given process but they are often contingent upon management capacities applied to capturing those inputs within the framework of policy decision. With regard to the proliferation of experts’ inputs expressed through committees, a purely technocratic perspective is not necessarily the optimal contribution when the decision has a political purpose. It is important to reflect on the diversity of scenarios and activities in which scientific expertise plays its role, and on the ways in which someone becomes a legitimate expert. The problem is therefore less the transgression of the scientific modus operandi by expertise than the process of “becoming an expert” that constantly requires new investigation.

27This leads not only to reinvestment in expertise organizations by way of a comprehensive approach (agency, ad‑hoc committee, scientific council of intermediary organization, etc.) but also to prime importance being granted to the study of the different forms of professional practices in relation to collective action or forms of involvement based on regulatory requirements (including inspection, etc.). Few studies in recent decades have actually focused on how someone becomes an expert, on how experts manage their relationships with colleagues and with other actors in risk management, or on the role of experts in risk definition for certain types of problem (Joly, 2005, p. 160). The aim here is therefore to analyze and report the trajectories of “expert-researchers” as individuals and as communities of experts, and to understand how they position themselves to frame problems and issues.

28The study of Dorothée Denayer (2013, this special issue) shows that a socio-historical approach to the trajectory of an expert and the “becoming-an-expert” process is a rich method in terms of scientific results. In her article she compares two contrasting and mixed trajectories of two naturalists working on two different subjects which are nevertheless related from an ecological point of view (one on the savanna, the other on elephants). She provides an original perspective on the diversity of relationships, which can then be seen to characterize research activities, expertise and engagements. There also, research and expertise are not related because one originates from the other; on the contrary, they both result concomitantly from a field of practices.

29By turning away from the study of experts’ committees, Giovanni Prete (2013, this special issue) shows in the case of agronomic research on agricultural pests that expertise-related activities are part of the routine work of researchers and scientific organizations. The mobilization of scientific research can contribute to framing collective risks or pests as public problems and may be influenced by the way public authorities acknowledge them. Hence, the attention which has been put on the work of articulating investments of an academic nature and those aimed at building actionable knowledge, does not disappear when one considers the study of expertise at work within research organizations that have a political mandate to monitor agricultural pests. This is not just a shift of focus, but the constitution of a point of view on the heterogeneity of expertise activities performed by researchers whose work contributes to and impacts on professional sectors.

30According to the same type of approach, Céline Granjou and Isabelle Mauz (2013, this special issue) show how investment in expertise activities in the field of the biodiversity does not simply extend scientific activities but can also create them, make them possible or facilitate them. Therefore, within the articulation work between academic investment and expertise investment, expertise activities are present at the heart of research trajectories. These authors show how, in the context of institutionalization of biodiversity in France, researchers try to articulate and to align different arenas and instances of the shaping of expertise, as well as current transformations of the epistemic cultures, including a modified relationship with fieldwork. At a time when the figures of the researcher-activist and of the whistleblower characterize a certain type of critical contribution to public action, it is also important to report the mode of existence of more discreet and routinized forms of scientific expertise.

Towards an ecology of governing by expertise

31The terms defining expert activities legitimized by the introduction of managerial resources or assets tend to render their function ambiguous. Are they “technical resources”, even as an extension of a political agenda originating elsewhere, or are they a “policy creation instrument” whose action is likely to be consequential? Jean-Yves Trépos (1996) pointed out that expertise was “a political resource, in the sense that it contributes, based on technical criteria, to the stability of decision-making”. Pierre Lascoumes and Patrick Le Gales (2004) extend this perspective by deepening the effects (including rationalization effects) that result from the instruments’ design, and by specifying the forms of engagement in and exit from the political debate on goals and values.

32In the continuity of these themes, Martine Kaluszynski (2013, this special issue) proposes a socio-historical approach to the relationships between law and policy with the case of penitentiary science, as a science of government, which contributed to the development of strong penal policies at the end of the 19th century. Her work analyzes the modalities by which experts’ knowledge constitutes penal practices themselves, and in her case the knowledge produced by a few actors invested with a driving role in the process of rule-and law-making. This process establishes links between knowledge and action, and thus takes part in the construction of penal policies.

33The framing of expertise can also be a source of disagreements between the actors. These disagreements are expressed during the formulation of the issues to be addressed and in discussions about the appropriate mechanisms to resolve them: “according to the different ways of framing the problem, the type of knowledge that is relevant is quite different” (Joly, 2005, p. 140). Mobilizing a critical approach, Paul Foster and Olivier Charnoz (2013, this special issue) highlight the inherent problems of the application of a preconceived plan by international experts in the management of the avian influenza epidemic in Indonesia. Their work analyses the role and the bias of expert knowledge in the modalities of public actions and of international agency facing sanitary crisis. In particular, they underline: the ways and reasons why local contexts of crisis situations are denounced, the social and cultural representations of international agency, the power relations between funders and operational actors, and the effects of the context of crisis upon the implementation of dispositifs of expertise.

34In democratic societies the organization of expertise (think tanks, consensus conferences, etc.) takes place within dialogical settings, often unrelated to democratic representation. They appear as different types of assessment of the political relevance of public decisions, and call for a transfer of experts’ knowledge in a very different type of political space compared to the one they are more ordinarily engaged in.

35Following research on “hybrid forums”, Kevin Jones and Alan Irwin (2013, this special issue) draw on the analysis of the British experience of integrating “lay members” in different experts’ committees that followed structural transformations of the system of expertise due to the mad-cow crisis. This contribution proposes a deconstruction of the “lay members” concept and shows the wide variety of positions that are not reflected in approaches based on the “experts” versus “non‑experts” dichotomy. It calls, thus, for debate on encouraging “contextual reflexivity”, which will allow scholars not only to discuss the frames of expertise but also to conceive of a second order change related to the transformation of the political space of risk governance that can be inferred in relation to the variety of positions.

36Hence, we observe a multiplicity of devices based on the use of expertise. They are far from all being dedicated to addressing sector-specific public policy problems. Every political space, given by a situation or the implementation of a dialogue resource, is related to a space of expertise whose appropriateness depends on its own framing, on the construction of policy arenas, and on the mobilization of stakeholders who are experts in procedures and in problem solving. These stakeholders are moreover linked to their ordinary relationships, which are renegotiated and transformed. The variety of policy assets and arenas invites us to develop, project by project, an ecological approach to situations of expertise, paying attention as much to ordinary and professional forms of knowledge and skills recognized as expertise, as to forms related to a legitimate authority or to associative or private commitments.

37These papers, taken together both comparatively and cumulatively, constitute an ecological approach to expertise assets. Thus, the focus is not only the ideal-type of the experts’ committee but also the work of experts in the full range of situations in which it takes place. This approach constitutes a follow‑up to earlier work such as Michael Pollak (1982) on the constitution of regulatory fields, but it also concerns the scientific disciplines and the regulatory sciences (Demortain, 2011). These sciences are evolving in close relationship with institutions that are governing the implementation of collective risk assessment, with an eye on the construction of markets that can open technological opportunities.

The ways of being of politics of expertise

38Arenas of expertise are already political in the sense that, through the dispositif of expertise, experts take part in the institutional definition of problems when they construct them as problems to solve, and thus in a form of political regulation. This specificity corresponds to the “instituting dimension” of expertise that simultaneously creates and redefines the appraised object (Castel, 1985). This contribution to political regulation comes from the device itself, which announced and preformed the production of solutions. The design of the device therefore produces framing effects, which may prefigure overflows.

39This performative nature of the dispositifs of expertise is important. It stems from a legitimacy to tell the truth conveying the position of experts, which is historically and socially constructed. Once again, the ideal type of expert committee is useful if we are to understand this dimension of performativity. At a time of controversies among experts, or reliance on scientific disciplines which are experiencing strong uncertainties, disagreements or ethical issues, it is the plurality of the ways of establishing the effects of truth that disrupts the expected political regulation. But we should not limit the enquiry to this type of well-documented configuration. The variety of situations and devices is indicative of the variety of public problems and forms of legitimacy, which unfold with their treatment.

40Additionally, the conceptions and overlapping perceptions of political acts vary with the public, private or civic nature of the actors. This variety requires us to renew our conceptions of politics and the structuring of “polities”. Work in this respect is ongoing, and the variety of the forms of expertise is reflecting the variety of the conceptions of knowledge policy, which is encapsulated in the devices that organize - or at least regulate - these forms. The interesting synthesis proposed by Dumoulin et al. (2005) sums up their variety.

41With this special issue, the aim is to emphasize the importance of studies on dispositifs or situations of expertise in connection with professional or market regulations. In particular, we wish to further understanding of the construction of environmental and energy policies or the social construction of markets, through the process of standardization of objects in a period of change. This approach to the political figures of expertise consists in abandoning a positivist view of decision (“a good expertise process makes good expertise”), and entering into a deeper understanding of the variety of processes and their composition at the state’s sphere of action, as well as embarking on the study of modes of organization of expertise that are left to joint regulation in which economic actors or professions become key player.

42Lionel Cauchard (2013, this special issue) therefore focuses on how the problem of high environmental quality (HQE) of building has been addressed in France by different agencies of standardization that have produced a variety of forms of this normative framework. These variations are related to the diversity of organizational rules of each area, their degree of openness and the diversity of their members, or the variety of repertoires of argumentation. Cauchard’s paper is a genealogical study focusing on the problems of the dual constitution of the expert and the object of expertise. It shows the joint creation of standardization spaces and of what public or private actors expect to get at a normative level, by examining the problems of articulation between different professional cultures, strategies of “seeking allies”, or the persistence of a strong hierarchy between actors according to their proficiency and specialization in scientific and technical knowledge. To conclude, it proposes a conceptualization of expert’s positions and practices within delimited spaces of standardization.

43Brice Laurent (2013, this special issue) is interested in the operations that define chemicals by analyzing the case of nanomaterials at three different levels: national, European and international. Focusing on the analysis of processes of crafting both standard and standardization in each of these spaces, he shows how standards are closely linked to the political spaces in which they are produced and negotiated. The ontological uncertainty surrounding these objects and the variety of standardization spaces leads to different approaches and definitions of the problems triggered by nanomaterials and by the constitution of the expertise process itself.

44Finally, Jean-Pierre Galland (2013, this special issue) discusses the organization of certification processes in which the quality of products is checked within the European Union market. He shows the difficulties of establishing a common market free of various forms of protectionism, and reveals the tensions that arise when an attempt is made to partially restrain the market forces, or to avoid relying solely on legitimate political structures (those of the Member States). The elaboration of procedures is impressive, as is their relative effectiveness (considering the comeback of market governance in certification that one would like to be freed from the effects of private interests, and the implicit comeback of national boundaries in the negotiations of accreditation that the Commission would like to be transnational). Finally, this article examines the forms of governmentality that are implemented in European construction, primarily to govern relationships between the business logics and the regulation logics organizing the certification sector.

45In democratic societies all these dispositifs of expertise that are attached to the constitution of economic regulations are political and do politics, in so far as they organize material life, they rationalize risks, and they concretize or limit technological promises. But this is a much less noisy politics of materialities - although a heavily disputed one - than those that can be conveyed by dialogical devices, which are very loosely coupled with established democratic representation. This is an indication of the importance of studying the various ways of being of the politics of expertise through such devices and through the points of view of the actors who are enacting them as experts.

The authors would like to acknowledge Liz Libbrecht for her help on the translation the quality of her work.

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Notes

1 As the focus of this special issue is on scientific and technological expertise, papers dedicated notably to forensic examination (Dumoulin, 2007) are not considered here.

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Référence électronique

Marc Barbier, Lionel Cauchard, Pierre-Benoít Joly, Catherine Paradeise et Dominique Vinck, « Towards pragmatic, ecological and political app roaches to expertise »Revue d’anthropologie des connaissances [En ligne], 7-1 | 2013, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2013, consulté le 31 octobre 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/rac/7472

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Auteurs

Marc Barbier

Permanent research professor at INRA (National Institute of Agronomic Research). His works develop social studies on innovation, science and technology in agriculture and life science. He has worked on agri-environmental device, on public problems related to mad-cow disease and related trouble between science and decision-making. He is presently working on agro-ecological transitions and the mergence or research domain and innovation regime linked to sustainable agriculture. He is director of the INRA Science in Society Research Unit and is an active member of IFRIS Institute. He recently published with Boelie Elzen, System Innovations, Knowledge Regimes, and Design Practices towards Transitions for Sustainable Agriculture. (Ed. Inra [online, CC], Paris) and with Céline Granjou, Les métamorphoses de l’expertise, (Ed. Quae, Paris, 2010)

Address: INRA SenS, Université Paris-Est Marne La Vallée, Cité Descartes 5, Bd Descartes Champs sur Marne, FR-77454 Marne-la-Vallée (France)
Email: barbier[at]grignon.inra.fr
Website http://sens.inra-ifris.org/

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Lionel Cauchard

Post-doctoral fellow at the IFRIS-LATTS (University of Paris-East Marne-la-Vallée, Ecole des Ponts ParisTech, CNRS). His main research interests concern the evaluation and the standardization’s performation of markets, organizations and professions within the fields of building construction and higher education and research.

Address: LATTS-IFRIS, Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée, Cité Descartes 5, boulevard Descartes Champs-sur-Marne, FR- 77454 Marne-la-Vallée Cedex 02 (France)
Email: lionel.cauchard[at]univ-mlv.fr

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Pierre-Benoít Joly

Economist and sociologist, he is a research directorat INRA. He is also the director in chief of the Institute For Research and Innovation in Society (IFRIS) and the SITES’ Labex. Specialized in the field of Economy and Sociology of Innovation, his research interests focus on the social management of the dynamics of knowledge of construction and innovation production. Based on different studies on science, democracy and markets interactions, his aim is to analyze the contemporary transformations of the science public sphere and the new modes of innovation and risks of governance. He teaches at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS). He was a fellow of the “science and governance” expert comity at the European Commission. He is currently a research fellow of the European Association for the Studies of Science and Technology (EASST) and of the Prevention and Precaution Comity. He is the President of the GMO Scientific Comity Programme for the Ministry of Ecology.

Address: INRA SenS, Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée, Cité Descartes 5, boulevard Descartes Champs-sur-Marne, FR-77454 Marne-la-Vallée (France)
Email: joly[at]inra-ifris.org
Website http://sens.inra-ifris.org/

Catherine Paradeise

Sociologist and professor at the University of Paris-East Marne-la-Vallée. She is a research fellow of the LATTS and President of the l’IFRIS (Institute For Research and Innovation in Society). Her first research interests concerned the labour market, collective negociations and professional relationships. Now, she studies scientific and academic organizations. In particular, her works is focused on the transformation of the relationships between managerial and professional regulations in link with the current European public reforms. She also works on the evolution of the tools used to judge academic quality and the different modalities of organizational construction of reputation and prestige. Some recent publications : La profession académique saisie par la nouvelle gestion publique. Dossier « Nouveau management public et profession », dir. Ph. Bezes & D. Demazière, Sociologie du travail, (4), 2011 ; Réformes et ordres universitaires locaux. In Felouzis G. & S. Hanhart (dir.) Gouverner l’éducation par les nombres ? Usages, débats et controverses. Bruxelles, De Boeck, coll. « Raisons éducatives », 2011 ; with Ph. Larédo, Politiques de recherche et pratiques scientifiques, Dossier thématique Open science et marchandisation des connaissances, Cahiers Droit, science et technologie, 2010 ; avec E. Ferlie, I. Bleiklie, & E. Reale (eds), University governance : Western European comparative perspectives, Springer, Dordrecht, 2009 ; with G. Mallard & A. Peerbaye (eds), Global science and national sovereignty. Studies in historical sociology of science, Routledge, New York, (3), 29-41.

Address: LATTS - Institut Francilien Recherche, Innovation et Société Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée, Cité Descartes 5, boulevard Descartes Champs-sur-Marne, FR- 77454 Marne-la-Vallée Cedex 02 (France)
Email: catherine.paradeise[at]univ-mlv.fr

Dominique Vinck

Professor at Lausanne University and teaches also at the Lausanne École Polytechnique Fédérale. He is a member of the Lausanne University Social Sciences Institute (Institut des Sciences Sociales) and an associate researcher at the PACTE Politique – Organisations laboratory (CNRS, Grenoble University). His research focuses on the sociology of science and innovation. He is currently exploring the field of cultural engineering and digital humanities. He recently published Everyday Engineering. An Ethnography of Design and Innovation (MIT Press, 2003), Pratiques de l’interdisciplinarité (PUG, Grenoble, 2000), The Sociology of Scientific Work. The Fundamental Relationship between Science and Society (E. Elgar, 2010), L’équipement de l’organisation industrielle. Les ERP à l’usage (Hermes, 2008), Les nanotechnologies (Le Cavalier Bleu, 2009), Comment les acteurs s’arrangent avec l’incertitude (EAC, 2009), Les Masques de la convergence (EAC, 2012).
Address Université de Lausanne (UNIL), Institut des Sciences Sociales, CH-1015 Lausanne (Suisse)
Email: dominique.vinck[at]unil.ch

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