Essential and Embattled Expertise: Knowledge/Expert/Policy Nexus around the Sarin Gas Attack in Syria

Anna Leander

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This article argues that expertise has continued to hold an absolutely assential and profoundly embattled position in the knowledge/expertise/policy nexus. More than this, it suggests that this duality of the and - (rather than the clarity of the either or) is to be welcomed. This argument is made with reference to the controversies surrounding the sarin gas attrack on Ghouta Damascus 21 August 2013. The article first argues that expertise continues to be essential in the sense that it is integral to contemporary policy-controversies. As the discussion around the sarin gas attack shows expertise is both constituted through controversies and at the same time constituting them. The article proceeds to suggest that precisely because this is the case, it is important that expertise also remains embattled. As shown with reference to the sarin gas attack controversies, it is only through contestation that the role of expertise in the controversy can possibly be checked. As this shows, the argument put forward in this article has much in common with Bruno Latour's recent insistence on the importance of not allowing experts to turn matters of concern into matters of fact. The argument hence distances itself from those who strive to reestablish the authority of expertise by in various ways refining our understanding of science and its relation to practice; that is from what Collins and Evans term the "third wave" in the social studies of science. However, this article diverges from Latour in suggesting that for expertise to remain contested requires more than attention to hybrid agency and actants. It suggests that it also requires enrolling arguments from the "critical" approaches that Latour rejects. The article insists on the integration of three such "critical" arguments: the critique of markets for ideas, of technological politics, and of regulatory processes.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)26-37
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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