The Role of Professional Expertise in Democratic Societies

Professional expertise and the public governance of its performance play an increasingly prominent role in modern democratic societies. Until the late 1960s, it was widely supposed that the contributions to the public good of professions in fields such as medicine, law and university teaching were unproblematic, and therefore properly subject to the rules of self-regulation. In the 1970s, this presumption came under fire. For a variety of reasons that are of interest to this project, a loss of confidence in professional expertise began to happen, so that by the time of the early 1980s many professions were subjected to intense public scrutiny and calls for public regulation. The shift was driven by a variety of factors, including not only budgetary pressures but also deep suspicion of expert knowledge as a vital prerequisite for modern democracies, knowledge economies and public life more generally.

This project examines the long-term social and political implications of this rethinking and public re-regulation of professional expertise. Of special interest to its enquiries are the changing role of universities, the world-wide restructuring of graduate training in the professions and the significance of this restructuring for our understanding of the future role of experts and expertise in democratic societies.  The project forms part of the developing close partnership between SDN and Europe’s most prominent social science research institute, the WZB in Berlin.

“Panel of Experts” | Image Credit: Giovanni Navarria (February 2014)


Co-ordinator: John Keane

Associates: Marc Torka (WZB)

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