Publication Name

Expertise in Political Contexts: Latour Avec the Third Wave in Science and Technology Studies


The interdiscipline of science and technology studies (‘STS’) has been characterized by its descriptive analyses of the presumptions and practices of scientific communities, and by numerous theoretical internal debates over the proper framework of analysis of science. While STS has not been characterized by a powerful effect on law and government, both of which are consumers of scientific expertise, an opportunity arises for engagement in public policy disputes due to the willful ignorance regarding science in the Trump administration, and the negative effects of political agendas and conflicts of interest therein. The urgent need for reliable expertise in such political contexts is addressed in the so-called third wave of STS that is based on Harry Collins and Rob Evans’s innovative ‘architecture of expertise.’ Two recent book chapters, namely Darrin Durant’s essay on ignoring experts and Martin Weinel’s essay on counterfeit scientific controversies, serve as practical examples of third-wave theory. Bruno Latour, who was engaged in a debate with Collins (and others in STS) concerning their respective approaches during the 1990s, also recently addressed the need for expertise (particularly climate expertise) in government contexts. Nowadays, Collins and Latour both promote consensus expertise and identify its reliance (for its authority) on science as a trusted institution. This article compares the similarities (and acknowledges the differences) between Collins and Latour with respect to their pragmatic strategies, and concludes that notwithstanding internal debates, STS scholars should join Collins (with Evans) and Latour to look outward toward critique and correction of governments that ignore scientific expertise.