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Draft Papers

Three Dimensions of Expertise

Harry Collins

Working paper for ALL@SEE website (www.cf.ac.uk/socsi/expertise)

Abstract: Standard analyses of expertise drawn from philosophy and psychology concentrate on how individuals acquire it.  For example individuals are sometimes said to pass through a series of stages as they near expert status.  It is said here that this kind of analysis is only one dimension of expertise.  Two more dimensions are taken from `The Periodic Table of Expertises': the extent to which individuals or groups are exposed to the tacit knowledge of the domain in question and the extent to which the domain is esoteric.  This produces a three-dimensional `expertise-space' and an Expertise-Space Diagram which can be used in a variety of ways from showing how an expertise can differ in `esotericity' in time or space, to representing different kinds of educational regime, to plotting an individuals ethnographic career in respect of a domain..

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Language and Practice

Harry Collins

Working paper for ALL@SEE website (www.cf.ac.uk/socsi/expertise)

Abstract: Existing analyses of the concept of `interactional expertise’ start from the wrong end.  Interactional expertise is not rare, it is everywhere.  Even in an esoteric area like gravitational wave physics, most of the scientists know most of what they know about the practice through their interactional expertise since their actual experience of practice is always very narrow – it is of some specific specialty.  The same goes for society writ large, where we nearly always understand others practices through language.  What is rare are social roles that allow one to become an interactional expert without contributing to practice in any way; usually a practice-based language is learned through social contiguity achieved via physical contiguity to practices and this is achieved by contributing to practice.  Mostly, however, it is still the language that is crucial.  What were referred to as `interactional experts’ should be referred to as `special interactional experts’.  These are the occupants of those sparse roles while pretty well everyone is an ordinary interactional expert.  There is no philosophical mystery about interactional expertise.

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Elective Modernism

Harry Collins

Working paper for ALL@SEE website (www.cf.ac.uk/socsi/expertise)

Abstract: Through close examination of day-to-day scientific practice and through philosophical critique, the Second Wave of science studies showed that it was not possible to find rigid demarcation criteria for science; epistemologically, science appears the same as other practices when examined closely.  The Second Wave levelled the `epistemological playing field’ and science came to be thought of by some as `a continuation of politics by other means’.  The Second Wave, however, also provides the tools for resurrecting the notion of science as special.  It shows that science is not to be thought of as a logically coherent activity but as a form-of-life characterised by a special set of social rules that have many exceptions and overlaps.  Once this is seen many of those things thought to be special about science under the First Wave, such as positivist or Popperian demarcation criteria, or Mertonian and Habermasian rules of conduct, can be thought of as comprising the characteristic form-of-life of science related to the set of `formative intentions’.  Thus a Third Wave of science studies can take these transmuted First Wave criteria and use them as aspirations to reconstruct the idea of science and, perhaps, to help form a good society. 

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Politics of the Third Wave and Elective Modernism

Harry Collins, Martin Weinel and Robert Evans

Working paper for ALL@SEE website (www.cf.ac.uk/socsi/expertise)

Abstract: We outline the political implications of the programme known as the `Third Wave of Science Studies’.  We begin by reflecting on the reception of the paper of the same name (Collins and Evans 2002).  We suggest that the initially hostile reaction might have had three causes over and above the normal academic suspicion of radical change.  The causes we identify are: some confusion over terminology; our failure to discuss the nature of institutions for mediating the science-society relationship; and the political vacuum at the heart of the paper.  The paper had a covert politics but not an overt politics.  Here we try to develop the overt politics showing how it works itself out in a number of cases including the Brent Spar, the MMR vaccine and South African AIDS policy.  The overt politics concern `technological decision-making in the public domain’.  The prescriptions that emerge include asking and answering as many technical questions as is reasonable and giving these questions and answers the maximum exposure before making what is always a political decision.  They include a preference for democracies which actively promote discussion and debate of technical matters and which shy away from both populism and technocracy.  Central to the overt politics of the Third Wave is `elective modernism’ which includes scientific values among those which should be at the heart of a good society.

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Quantifying the Tacit: The Imitation Game and Social Fluency

Harry Collins and Robert Evans

Draft working paper for ALL@SEE website (www.cf.ac.uk/socsi/expertise)

Abstract: The use of a new method of sociological research – the Imitation Game – is described.  The method is used to investigate the relationship between groups that diverge culturally or experientially.  The idea of `interactional expertise’ links discursive performance to practical experience and this justifies use of the method.  The concept of the game has been proved by trials on the colour-blind, the blind and those with perfect pitch.  Use of the Game to explore the social relationships between men and women, homosexuals and heterosexuals, active Christians and secular students is then explained.  It is argued that the Imitation Game has the potential to complement existing techniques, such as the Eurobarometer surveys, by providing a new way to compare social relationships across large social and temporal distances in both a qualitative and a quantitative way.

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Other papers can be downloaded from the Publications section.