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Rethinking Expertise 1st Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226113609
ISBN-10: 0226113604
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Editorial Reviews


“The way forward is no longer paved by single discipline experts. In Rethinking Expertise, Collins and Evans map out the interwoven expertises of science, technology, public policy, and decision making, illuminating the reality of modern leadership and the new expertise.”

(Gary H. Sanders, Project Manager, Thirty Meter Telescope Project)

Rethinking Expertise is a groundbreaking contribution to the sociology of knowledge: it skillfully defends a shift in analytic focus from propositional knowledge to expertise; it meticulously classifies different forms of expertise in a ‘periodic table’; it impressively highlights the significance of the hitherto overlooked category of interactional expertise; and, perhaps most importantly, it convincingly demonstrates that sociology can make highly fruitful and surprising use of the experimental method. Rethinking Expertise will be required reading in the social sciences and philosophy.”

(Martin Kusch, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge)

“This revolutionary book shows how science studies can contribute to understanding the contents of expert knowledge, not just the process by which experts are given that status by society. The authors create a novel taxonomy of types of expertise from which they derive normative recommendations concerning public debates about science. For all readers, this volume will be provocative; for some, it will also be revelatory.  I highly recommend it.”

(Michael E. Gorman, Professor of Science, Technology & Society and Systems Engineering, University of Virginia)

"Collins and Evans put their points vividly, with elegant language and diagrams....Their book starts to lay the groundwork for solving a critical problem—how to restore the force of technical scientific information in public controversies, without importing disguised political agendas."
(Robert P. Crease Nature 2007-11-15)

"The book offers a rich and detailed 'periodic table' of expertise, ranging from the kind of beer-mat knowledge useful only in pub quizzes to the levels of skill that enable people to make a contribution to cutting-edge science. It considers wine buffs and art connoisseurs, hoaxers, journalists and pseudoscientists. It looks at deep philosophical issues of 'embodiment'—whether you need to move around in the world to acquire a language or the jargon of a specialist field— that have major implications for the study of artificial intelligence and computer learning. It is full of case studies, anecdotes and intriguing experiments. But at its heart are questions arising directly out of the authors' work in the sociology of science and the challenges of scientifically literate public decision-making."
(Matthew Reisz Times Higher Education Supplement 2007-12-07)

"What makes an expert an expert? The answer has often been epistemologically grounded. Experts were experts because they possessed special training, methods, and analytical strategies that better enabled them to 'be in the truth' relative to lay reasoners. However, in the wake of science and technology studies, postmodern theory, and a growing distrust of expert assessments, such a realist treatment of expertise seems epistemologically flawed and politically naive. Collins (Cardiff Univ.) and Evans (Cardiff School of Social Science) seek to provide an account of expertise that does not fall victim to a postmodern leveling of all distinctions between the expert and nonexpert in terms of the traditional version of expertise described above. To accomplish this new 'sociology of expertise,' the authors put forward what they refer to as the Periodic Table of Expertise. The Table differentiates between different types of expertise and the contexts in which these types are most useful and effective. Such an approach grounds expertise not in its special methodological features but in the tacit, socialized knowledge that individuals gain as members of specialized groups. The authors believe this approach can lead to a new way of sorting out the contributions experts make to decision making in society."


"A stimulating read for philosophers and general readers."
(Tim Thornton Metapsychology Online)

"Densely packed with new ideas, some intuitive and some decidely not. . . . This book would make a terrific textbook, certainly in philosophy and also in sociology and psychology. Scientists and engineers will find it fascinating."
(Margaret Bennington-Davis Psychiatric Services)

About the Author

Harry Collins is distinguished research professor of sociology and director of the Center for the Study of Knowledge, Expertise, and Science at Cardiff University. He is the author of, most recently, Gravity’s Shadow and, with Trevor Pinch, Dr. Golem, both published by the University of Chicago Press. Robert Evans is reader in sociology at the Cardiff School of Social Sciences.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (October 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226113604
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226113609
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,094,949 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an interesting and, I believe, important book. It attempts to define expertise, and account for its development and its influence in modern society. At a time where there is such rapid social, scientific and technological change, the general public is heavily dependent upon the information that can be gleaned from scientists and authorities about the utility, risks and safety of technological developments. How can the public establish the validity of the judgments that are made by scientific authorities? Further, at this time of economic dislocation, the veracity of the expertise of economists must be seriously challenged by the victims of the changes.
Collins and Evans define expertise as the acquisition of "tacit knowledge", deep understanding that arises from immersion in the practices of social groups. We are all immersed in social groups of various kinds and have amassed tacit knowledge in many domains; the examples of learning to speak a native language or to drive a motor vehicle competently are two examples. To go to the acquisition of tacit knowledge in broader, more esoteric areas, with the acquisition of scientific tacit knowledge we have the example of individuals immersing themselves in the practices of laboratories for long periods of time to be able to assimilate the very subtle practices that differentiate the expert from the learner.
The important point made by Collins and Evans is to distinguish between what they term "Contributory Expertise" from "Interactional Expertise". The former is what we normally think of the expert; the person who can make contributions to the advancement of a discipline and who, potentially, possesses the knowledge to pass on to later generations through teaching and example.
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Format: Paperback
The categorization of expertise as laid out in chapters 2 and 3 are intriguing and go a long way into discerning the pit-falls of the false hubris that the information age brings to the masses. I can appreciate the focus to formulate and rationalize the real contributions of interactional experts (those that do not practice a field but possess deep knowledge about it).

The ideas presented lays a good ground work on how we can discern the quality of the contributions of individuals have to a conversation, especially in the age of split-second google-Wikipedia searches giving anyone what seemingly may be a large depth of knowledge in subjects they have no understanding of.
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Format: Paperback
This book proposes a new framework for thinking about and evaluating expertise. The authors think an important and neglected area of inquiry regarding expertise is the boundaries surrounding expertise and how we should understand them. With additional nuances within each category it is proposed to understand expertise by the following: Beer-mat knowledge, popular understanding, primary source knowledge, interactional expertise, and contributory expertise.

A considerable amount of text space is spent describing interactional expertise (the ability to understand much of the nuance within a particular field, interact with the field's expert, but not being able to add to the body of knowledge or advance the field) and its relationship with contributory expertise (which encompasses interactional expertise while having the capacity to advance the area in question).

Two important distinctions presented by the authers are: accreditation is not the only way, nor necessarily always accurate, in determining expertise status (certain forms of experience may over time qualify someone to have interactional and possibly contributory expertise), and that many technical questions have certain appropriate points for nontechnical insertion of people's concerns.
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This is a fascinating exploration of expertise. The leading idea is: How can I identify an expert ?
This question pops up every day: is this climate change scientist an expert ? Should I trust this nutritionist ?
The gravity of such decisions becomes evident when parliamentary committees invite experts to testify or when citizen groups
launch action against new technologies.

Additionally, Collins and Evans set to define a new class of expertise: interactional expertise.
Somebody can be an expert in the sense that she speaks the language of experts, without being able to contribute
original knowledge in her field of interactional expertise. Collins himself is an interactional expert in
gravitational wave physics, even though he is a sociologist.

The book describes experiments (real, gedanken and Turing-test) about faking expertise, these alone warrant reading the book.
Collins (with Trevor Pinch) has previously published Dr. Golem: How to think anout medicine, which explores medical expertise.
It includes a nice chapter of fake doctors, which is only shortly discussed here. Unlike Dr. Golem, this book is not a popular science book. Rather heavy sometimes.
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