Monday, January 31, 2011

Honest Brokers: The Politics of Expertise and the “Who Lost China” Debate


The Berkeley Sociology Colloquium Series Spring 2011 Presents:

Honest Brokers: The Politics of Expertise and the “Who Lost China” Debate

Gary Alan Fine, Sociology, Northwestern University

Complex social system requires knowledge specialists who provide information that political actors rely on to help solve political challenges or social problems. But what happens in the aftermath of advice that is considered incorrect or harmful? In such circumstances, how do communities of experts preserve their reputation in the face of charges of incompetence or maliciousness? To examine challenges to expert reputations and their defense we examine the debate in the early 1950s over "Who Lost China?," the congressional attempt to assign responsibility for the fall of the Nationalist regime to the Communists. Using a "strong case," we examine the political battles that surrounded the motives of Professor Owen Lattimore of Johns Hopkins University. For epistemic authority an expert must be defined as competent (having a legitimated background), influential (providing consequential information), and innocent (claiming epistemic neutrality). Following from this structure of expertise, we analyze two forms of reputational attack: smears (an oppositional presentation of a set of linked and critical claims) and degradation ceremonies (the institutional awarding of stigma). Smears appear when reputational rivals lack authority, whereas the degradation ceremony operates in conjunction with institutional control. They have different relations to systems of power. Policy experts hope for control over an autonomous realm of knowledge, but when these claims conflict with institutional needs, their position may be undercut.

Gary Alan Fine is the John Evans Professor of Sociology at Northwestern University. He is currently a Guggenheim Fellow and a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in Social Psychology, and is known for his research on small group culture, ethnographic studies of leisure and work, rumor and gossip, and political reputations. He is the author of Difficult Reputations: Collective Memories of the Evil, Inept and Controversial; The Global Grapevine: Why Rumors of Terrorism, Immigration, and International Trade Matter; and Kitchens: The Culture of Restaurant Work. His current research includes a study of competitive chess, a theoretical analysis of small group culture, and an examination of political reputation in the civil-rights era South.

No comments:

Post a Comment