Confronting the Crisis of Expertise: Historical Roots and Current Challenges

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The  Summer University Course organized by the Open Society University Network and Blinken OSA

Titled Confronting the Crisis of Expertise: Historical Roots and Current Challenges, the SUN course is taking place online between July 26 and 30, 2021.

Offered to advanced-level undergraduate students, graduate students, junior faculty in humanities and social sciences, journalists, and artists, the research-intensive course is held online. The course comprises lectures, seminars, and practical workshops with archival documents and scientific datasets.
Co-funded by the Open Society University Network (OSUN), in cooperation with the Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives.

About the course:
In the post-Covid-19 world, the problems already experienced by democracies with regard to social divisions and diminishing trust in public institutions are exacerbated by a growing epistemic crisis concerning the simultaneous need and contestation of expertise for public policy purposes. The existence of uncertain statistical data, the search for past models in dealing with hidden enemies, the public attempts to translate scientific knowledge and to make sense of decision-making processes, all point to a persistent need for advanced skills for working with governance data and discourses.
This course enhances participants’ skills in analyzing the incorporation of techno and scientific knowledge into public governance and discourses. The summer school seeks to provide the tools and categories to critically assess systemic responses in times of both contested expertise and scientificization of politics.

The course is taking place online between July 26 and 30, 2021.
Course Director: Ioana Macrea-Toma, Blinken OSA

Course faculty:

Jenny Andersson is an economic historian and historian of science, currently Senior Lecturer/Associate Professor at Uppsala University and CNRS Research Professor at Sciences Po Paris. As Principal Investigator of the Futurepol project, Andersson did archival research on futures studies and the role of forecasting as a source of governmentality. Her lecture about the dilemmas of expertise as hybrid knowledge will be followed by a discussion on the historical reasons for the very emergence of expertise, with the help of the board game Future: A Game of Strategy, Influence, and Chance. Students will debate questions like, in what ways future studies have contributed to shaping the present? How do intellectual legacies still shape global problems? Who has the authority to create and invent futures?

István Rév, Professor of History and Political Science at the Central European University Budapest and the Director of Blinken OSA, will give the opening lecture of the course, titled “The Historian as an Expert Witness.” As a hybrid type of knowledge situated at the intersection of different fields for the management of ever-increasingly complex issues, expertise is currently changing the assumptions of intellectual life. The lecture will address broader questions about the ethics and knowledge conditions of “interventionist” dilemmas when the modalities of long-term inquiries into universal issues and the need for short-term resolutions within specific settings dramatically come into contact.  The necessity of the historian’s trained judgment with regards to the critical assessment of evidence is sometimes seen at odds with the consequentialist ethics and the pragmatic epistemology of the courtroom. What is the relationship between the scholars’ open inquiries and the firmly defined investigations of judges? What about the different modes of argumentation?

Adela-Gabriela Hîncu is a New Europe College Fellow, a former CEU-IWM postdoctoral fellow, and a recipient of the Hanák Prize. Her lecture “Truth Regimes / East and West Data Cultures” will present in more detail two 20th-century types of expertise developed by sociologists: expertise about the “scientific-technological revolution,” which tackled the social consequences of technological advances; and expertise in the quantification of people’s quality of life, which sought to capture both objective and subjective aspects of people’s wellbeing for purposes of governance. Revolved around the meaning of “objective social data,” the presentation will be followed by a practical workshop: using documents from the Blinken OSA’s collection on Radio Free Europe, students will write a “policy brief” for a Socialist government on the social implications of automation, as well as a RFE research report on “Sociology and the Czechoslovak Communist Party.”

Narcis Tulbure is Assistant Professor at the Department of Finance, Bucharest University of Economic Studies. His research was supported by fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the Council for European Studies, the New Europe College in Bucharest, and the University of Pittsburgh. His lecture will reflect on the creation and use of economic data, and on how these processes conditioned the production of economic knowledge across the Iron Curtain. To untangle the disputes centered on economic statistics, Tulbure will address data precarity in economies, and how statistics in Socialist countries was subject to concealment and selectivity, in order to use truth to support ideologically driven models and narratives. In a practical workshop, students will imagine themselves as researchers living during the Cold War period and write research proposals to study Socialist economies as “Western” academics or Capitalist economies as “Eastern” academics.

Emily White is a Research Associate at the Center for the Study of Land, Air, and Water at Bard College, and Director of the Open Society University Network Community Science Coalition. Currently, she is involved in ongoing efforts to monitor water quality in the Saw Kill, using her training as an environmental scientist to consider the impacts of small hydropower. Her lecture will address the intersection of science and public policy by exploring the role of scientific expertise. Past and present environmental problems (e.g., Chernobyl, Fukushima, ozone hole, access to clean air and water, etc.) will be examined from a historical and scientific perspective, within the context of community action, environmental movements, and politics. In practical, small-group activities, participants will explore what it means to “do science,” and examine strategies for effective science communication.

Tincuta Heinzel is an artist, scholar, and curator. Following Visual Arts and Cultural Anthropology studies in Cluj (Romania), she completed her Ph.D. thesis at Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (France). Focusing on the textile industry, her lecture will address how “trends” were rhetorically constructed and imposed as inevitable evolutions in consumers’ tastes. By opposing the expertise claims of Western trendsetters with the statements of 1980s Romanian designers and archival materials related to East-West economic exchanges, the presentation aims to show that the trendsetters' decisions, design practices, and communication styles reflect not only an investigation of customers’ taste, but they were also the translation of macro-economic exchanges between East/West. During the seminar following the lecture, participants will analyze trend books and archival materials to be found in archives such as the Blinken OSA, and develop fashion trend communication strategies.

Ioana Macrea-Toma is a Research Fellow at the Blinken OSA, and the course director of the Archives's CEU Summer University course. She co-teaches courses and seminars at the Central European University on theoretical and methodological issues related to historiography both generally and also applied to the history of the Cold War. At the Blinken OSA, she aims to map history through the cognitive lenses of the archives, and to participate in the development of an Archival Laboratory. Her session reviews the history of information gathering operations during WWII (and after) in order to assess the characteristics of Cold War data banks as holistic repositories about distant and yet legible socio-political systems. Understanding societies through the collection of data was premised on the future use of such data for steering such countries along the path of Western modernization. We shall study the archive of Radio Free Europe hosted at Blinken Open Society Archives, and, in a practical workshop, analyze the sociological and audience surveys conducted at RFE for policy purposes.