Accepted Paper:

Defining public expertise: scientists and field experts on public dietetic expertise  


Sampsa Saikkonen (University of Helsinki)
Janne Huovila (University of Helsinki)

Paper short abstract:

Presents how scientists and field experts come to construct public expertise in healthy eating, and its boundaries. The performativity of drawing on the concept of experience in defining expertise is demonstrated, and an argument is made for the notion of public expertise as a form of expertise.

Paper long abstract:

Many contemporary science-intensive public debates are permeated by competing claims to expertise. Public debates over healthy eating are a case in point. STS-analyses of expertise in public contexts typically focus on negotiation and contestation of scientific expertise, or on relations between lay and expert knowledge. What has remained less investigated is how scientists, and especially other experts, actually define, and come to construct, public expertise. In this paper, based on sixteen (16) in-depth interviews with eight researchers doing nutrition and food related research and eight experts engaged in practical dietetic counselling, we investigated how these experts, all with experience of acting as experts in the public domain, account for public expertise in the context of healthy eating. We draw on Thomas Gieryn's concept of boundary-work as an analytical tool to investigate how, and what kind of, symbolical boundaries are constructed around public expertise by the interviewees. We demonstrate that the experts produce differing normative definitions of public expertise, and what is the role of experts when discussing healthy eating in the public domain. Furthermore, we especially point out that while experience is a quintessential characteristic of any kind of expertise, it is also a contingent concept which can be flexibly utilized in defining, and constructing boundaries around, public expertise. Finally, based on our empirical analysis we argue for the importance of a more explicit notion of public expertise as a context-sensitive form of expertise in STS, which necessitates experiential competence, but is also subject to symbolical struggle.

Panel T032
Science Communication