SKAPE Keynote: Expertise in uncertain times
Expertise in uncertain times: Crisis, death or reconfiguration?
Prof Reiner Grundmann, University of Nottingham
Thursday 26 October 2023, 5:00-6:30pm, Project Room, 50 George Square
Followed by a drinks reception 6:30-7:30pm
SKAPE is pleased to invite you to the inaugural Keynote presentation for our 2023-2024 academic year. In this Keynote address, Prof Grundmann will address the functions of expertise in times of socio-technical complexity and scepticism.
Seats for this event are limited. Please book your ticket on Eventbrite. A drinks reception will follow the keynote.
There is a common perception that in recent years, at least in Western societies, official expertise has entered a period of crisis with some even proclaiming the ‘death of expertise.’ The underlying causes and potential solutions are diverse, yet they seem to share a common thread, as outlined in a widely accepted standard view. This view asserts that in matters that are complex and policy-relevant, scientific experts assume a central position. Political decision-makers should heed these experts’ advice and ideally implement their recommendations. Regrettably, these experts have encountered opposition that requires addressing.
The standard view has been challenged. It has been rightly critiqued as going against core principles of democratic procedure in pluralist societies, as it often means investing power in unelected technocrats. This viewpoint has been endorsed by Eurosceptics, climate change sceptics, and Covid sceptics. In his SKAPE keynote talk for 2023-24, Prof Grundmann argues that the rise of populism can be interpreted as a response to institutional arrangements where open discussion has been backgrounded in the interest of finding, and implementing, the ‘right’, ‘true’, or ‘good’ answer. By dictating the boundaries of legitimate and fake knowledge, official expertise (and its standard bearers) tries to limit the scope of public debate and often denigrates dissenting views. Prof Grundmann suggests that such a position can be avoided through conceptual clarification which distinguishes different roles and functions of expertise. He also argues that the notion of expertise being in crisis is unhelpful as it implies a temporary state of affairs that will either return to a prior, stable state or, indeed, result in its demise. Expertise is in a process of reconfiguration. While official expertise faces challenges, not only from dissenting scientists but also from citizen expertise and AI systems, the impact is uneven across society. Overall, there is a growing demand for and supply of expertise, with a multitude of voices now participating. Consequently, a return to a scenario where official expertise holds a monopoly position seems unlikely.
Keynote speaker bio
Reiner Grundmann is Professor of Science and Technology Studies at the University of Nottingham (UK). His current focus is the relation between knowledge and decision making with a special interest in the role and nature of expertise in contemporary societies. He has also an interest in Social Theory and methodological issues in discourse analysis. Over the past two decades he has been researching the topic of climate change. His latest book, Making Sense of Expertise. Cases from Law, Medicine, Journalism, Covid-19, and Climate Change (Routledge 2023) brings together several of these strands. He is chief editor for the specialty section Climate and Decision Making in Frontiers in Climate and member of the editorial board of the Oxford Research Encyclopaedia Climate Change.