PolyU 85th Anniversary : distinguished lectures in humanities : the democratization and technologization of expertise and their consequences

The notion of expertise is integral to all forms of institutional and professional practice in many domains – in education, healthcare, social welfare, law, journalism, banking, information technology, marketing, translating and interpreting services etc. It is a concept addressed by scholars across many disciplines – cognitive science, sociology, anthropology, psychology, language/communication studies, among others. There are, however, enduring problems of definition, description and measurement of expertise. Some scholars draw attention to the ongoing ‘crisis in expertise’ and others pronounce the ‘death of expertise’ in contemporary society.
More humbly, I begin with a characterisation of professional expertise very broadly to include scientific, experiential, technological, organisational, legal, ethical and communicative knowledge. This then leads me to the notion of ‘distributed expertise’, which extends beyond the individual remit and the conventional lay-expert divide. For instance, in the healthcare domain, a significant development afforded by internet-based technology is the increased level of patients’ e-health literacy and, consequently, democratisation of expertise. This amounts not only to accessing health information digitally, but also the phenomenon of patients ‘doctoring’ themselves in ‘the now of its presence’, i.e., ‘expert patients’ becoming instrumental in self-diagnosis and even self-treatment.
Additionally, ‘distributed expertise’ is also constitutive of ‘expert systems’, e.g., diagnostic and interventionist technologies as well as decision aids mediated by algorithms and templates. This is what I refer to as the technologization of expertise. I suggest that there is overreliance on ‘expert systems’ by both experts and lay persons in everyday decision making. Access to and use of ‘expert systems’ in optimal ways inevitably necessitates a reconfiguration of the very conditions and consequences of professional expertise.

Event Date: 25/11/2022
Speaker: Prof. Srikant Sarangi (Hong Kong Polytechnic University)
Hosted by: Faculty of Humanities

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