Questioning Expertise: Reflexivity, Ethics and Etiquettes of Power
University of Arizona
University of Michigan
A panel proposal/call for abstracts for the 107th American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting
San Francisco, CA, November 19-23, 2008.
Deadline for paper abstracts March 17, 2008
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A broad range of researchers are in agreement that contemporary articulations of global capitalism, information and communication technologies, and scientific knowledge-practices have led to a state of generalized indeterminacy regarding expert knowledge and agency (Beck, Giddens, and Lash 1994; Fischer 2007; Rabinow 2008). Recent anthropological work has shown how this simultaneous globalization and problematization of expertise is tied to the articulation of new forms of knowledge that re-envision how human beings may be thought of as objects of technical know-how, political action, and/or ethical reflection (Ong and Collier 2005). This research has contributed substantively to an ethnographically grounded “critical ontology of ourselves” (Foucault 1985) by providing specific localized accounts of how new subjects of knowledge, power, and ethics are being articulated across global domains. Building upon the insight that experts are reflexively engaged in producing new and often ambiguous knowledge about human beings, this panel shifts the focus to the identities, embodiments, and subjectivities of the experts themselves.
Our focus is on those professionals who claim expertise over the nature of the human in the service of improving and/or securing safety and well-being. Social workers, health care providers, police officers, teachers, scientists, military personnel, policy makers, and government officials have all experienced to varying degrees a shift in their relationship to the increasingly intertwined forces of government administration and economic competitiveness. Confronted with changing rationales for their work, and new forms of response-ability, these experts have struggled to defend their autonomy and define their identities while selectively incorporating rationalities of efficiency, accountability, performance, and competition. What we know relatively little about are the ways that these adjustments, accommodations, and/or refusals have been experienced and felt.
Inspired by Michel Foucault’s rethinking of the relations between truth, subjectivity and power and Norbert Elias’ histories of bodily etiquette and the organization of the state, we are interested in papers that examine how experts and professionals reflect upon and struggle with etiquettes of power, the boundaries of their agency, the limits of their knowledge, and the ethics of their practice. How do they define their authority and interpret their identities in the context of changing relationships to clients, citizens, patients, inmates, students and/or colleagues? What are the practices of self-making and unmaking that are implicated in the questioning of expertise? How is the self stylized and/or performed in zones of contestation where one form of knowledge and practice has been marginalized or superseded by another? How do experts incarnate specialized knowledge, stylizing their conduct in ways that are personally meaningful?
We especially welcome papers that explore these themes from cross-cultural and/or historical perspectives.
Department of Anthropology
The University of Arizona
1009 E. South Campus Drive
Tucson, Arizona 85721-0030 U.S.A
(520) 621-2585 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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