ivory-tower-tg-version-290x290WHO ARE EXPERTS AND WHAT DO THEY DO: PRODUCTION EXPERTISE IN THE URBAN SETTING 

Research Issue

Expertise is increasingly becoming a more and more important factor in the process of making complex decisions. Recent findings of policy studies analysts demonstrate that experts participate in both the agenda setting stage and the public debate stage. Respective communities reveal considerable interest in understanding the role of expertise in the public sphere in order to determine who and why should participate in making socially important decisions. However, the groups that are interested in this sort of understanding are constantly encountering difficulties in finding out who should qualify as an expert. It is especially important to note that in Russia the reference to the professional status of an expert is not enough for selecting him or her for performing a particular expertise. The reason is dissonance within the status systems of the fields that experts presumably represent. One may suggest that in this case specific local factors and mechanisms of constructing an expertise are gaining supreme importance. These factors and mechanisms constitute an important background for both the selection of experts and the production of the expert evaluation itself.

Previous work on the topic

There is a conventional research focus. Researchers found that the traditional role of an expert was typically seen as resulting from traditional professions and science (Kozhanov, see for review). Accordingly, an expert was a person in command of some special knowledge of some special field. A large proportion of speculations about experts was and still is based on the analysis of attributes of expertise such as knowledge and experience, forming the basis of expert status legitimacy. As a result, the interest in expert knowledge is converted into the interest in the scientific knowledge or in the lay expertise in the name of which an expertise is performed (Horst, Michael Castel, Collins).

We propose to change the conventional research focus and consider an expert not as an isolated human being with specific professional attributes but rather as a visible or invisible outcome of urban network operation. In this case, an expert is someone that the urban community is endlessly producing and re-producing as an expert. Others located outside of the knowledge network attribute social power to this person who dominates their perceptions and creates expert assessments. In order to realize who experts are in a specific urban community, we should understand where the nominating power is located.

In our project, we are going to analyze an assembly of actors inside a community who create and name experts. This “nominating assembly” is typically manned by different groups, including mass media dealers (local mass media representatives who select professionals and name them as experts) and state agents (municipal officials who ask selected professionals to participate in local decision-making and produce them as experts).

Research questions

What criteria do representatives in the mass media and administration use for expert selection in Tomsk?
Which methods do representatives employ to select local experts?
What are the main social attributes of selected experts (social position, affiliation, etc.)?
What are job expectations for each expert group (experts produced by mass media dealers and by local officials)?

Methodology

In this project we follow the contextualist paradigm based on the Chicago School tradition (Abbott, Gieryn). The holistic strategy of local community is necessary for a deep understanding of the actual need for expert realization embedded in social relations. Thus we shall be considering the city as a natural laboratory – as a typical case demonstrating how different requests for the expertise are functioning in the regional space.

There are two reasons for choosing Tomsk as a locus of our research. Typically the expertise is done by the local experts without extensive use of outside sources. Tomsk is sufficiently separated from outside influence. Secondly, in the case of Tomsk we are able to rely upon institutional willingness to cooperate.

Empirical research methods

To collect and analyze empirical data, the following methods will be used:

1) Analysis of secondary data:
a) media materials where experts are mentioned (this data will be used to design a pool of experts);
b) CVs, personal web-pages (biographical data about experts);
c) newspaper materials, TV show opinions, expert reports and memos (data on products and outcomes of the expertise).

2) Structured interviews: a) with agents responsible for finding and selecting experts; b) with selected key experts for mass media and administration.

Contribution

One of the major contributions of this project should be a research design to analyze the production of expertise. Setting up research instruments in proper methodological arrangement will let us solve the problem of making complex social objects with flexible borders visible for the research. A standardized research toolkit of this kind should be useful for the analysis of complex social objects in a comparative context on different levels, including cross-regional and cross-national cases.

This approach will be more fruitful in Russia because the approach to study experts as separated figures with appropriate formal attributes has proved unsuccessful. Another contribution of the research project presented above should be a better explanation of the influence the social and political specificity of the city carries upon the production of expertise. It is a way to embed expertise in social relationships.

OfficialsOlga Melnikova and Katerina Guba