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Brown-bag-Se­mi­nar: The uni­ver­si­ty in the field of power. On the con­struc­tion of ex­per­ti­se in the US-Ame­ri­can know­ledge so­cie­ty

Dr. Oliver Wieczorek, INCHER, Universität Kassel

 

In the so-called knowledge society of our time, scientifically generated expertise is seen as the basis for political decisions. Without the support of scientific evidence, politics cannot be legitimized. "Evidence-based" politics has almost become a matter of course. "Ruling by numbers" and comprehensive "datafication" are hallmarks of politics in the knowledge society. However, the more political action is determined by scientifically generated evidence, the less the "ordinary" citizen has anything to say and the more the scope for democratic decision-making is narrowed by a kind of expertocracy. In order to know how political decisions are made under these changed conditions, we must look at the more or less open, broad or narrow, equal or unequal access of scientifically generated expertise to political decisions. What scientifically generated expertise has access to political decision-making processes? Is this access open to all experts in the same way, or are there experts who are more likely to be heard than others?

Since it is the principle of all scientific research that existing evidence is to be continuously questioned, there is no certain knowledge beyond the ground truths on the respective research front. All knowledge is provisional, and it is just waiting to be superseded by new knowledge. As a result, policy can learn and progress to the extent that it is open to changes in scientific knowledge. However, the broader this openness, the more it comes into conflict with the political necessity of making collectively binding decisions here and now, and precisely under the condition of the knowledge that currently prevails.

The flip side of this pressure to decide is the suppression of possible alternatives and a correspondingly diminished openness to counterevidences to the prevailing evidences. This narrowing of the spectrum of politically relevant truths is facilitated by inequalities among experts in their access to power and to policy decisions.

Using the United States as an example, I examine the factors that determine the access of scientific experts and the universities they represent, on the one hand, to the field of power in general, as measured by central government-related entities, and, on the other hand, to policy decisions in particular, as measured by invitations to congressional hearings.

Using a mixed-methods research design that combines elements of habitus field theory and network theory, I first examine the extent to which universities address different social fields in their mission statements, the extent to which they actually have field-spanning, direct and indirect contacts with actors relevant to the political process, and how both relate to universities' material and symbolic resources. In the next step, these factors are related to a self-established access measure and the number of times experts from the respective universities are heard in the U.S. Senate and U.S. Congress. Through a network simulation, it is shown that access does not follow a random distribution, but is extremely concentrated in a few universities. In the subsequent linear regression models and count regressions, it becomes apparent that one can speak of a kind of academic plutocracy. It could be argued that this is a meritocratic rule of the best experts. However, this fails to recognize that the rule of the best also involves an enormous narrowing of expert knowledge, which finds its way into the center of power and into political decision-making processes. This narrows the spectrum of possible alternatives for political decisions, possible learning processes and possible corrections of errors to a considerable degree.

Keywords: USA, Elites, Mixed Methods, Field of Power, Network Analysis, Multiple Correspondence Analysis, Count Regression

 

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