The global ecosystem of authority is changing. Confronted with complex dynamics and ‘wicked problems’ such as global warming or worldwide food risks, decision-makers need to rely on the advice of specialists. At the same time, citizens question the role of expertise in society more than ever. While simulations and social experiments have become an indispensable basis for political decisions, the involvement of multiple actors such as NGOs, think tanks or consultants in processes of policy advice and public deliberation has become an equally essential element of political legitimation across all levels of governing. In many settings, different actor groups are competing and struggling to interlink both, the competence to validate and justify knowledge claims (‘epistemic authority’) and the capability to make these claims relevant for collectively ordering and evaluating society (‘governance authority’). These two types of authority are often paired, particularly in highly complex and technical policy fields.
As a consequence, so far unquestioned arrangements of policy-relevant knowledge production are no longer taken for granted. They are confronted by, and collide with, different norms of scientific integrity and political accountability. Efforts such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are not only controversial because of underlying economic interests; they also incorporate contested worldviews on how to harmonize fundamental principles of expertise, risk evaluation and public knowledge production. Similarly, while the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been publicly criticized for its inability to coordinate diverging interests, one of its main difficulties seems to lie in the fact that, on the international and transnational level, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all model of expertise’.
The consequences of globally changing authority constellations are not yet clear. They might involve ‘first-order conflicts of acceptance’ about the
legitimate exercise and the accepted modes of authority. They might also cumulate into ‘second-order conflicts of acceptance’ (Zürn) eroding the basic principles of political legitimacy and the very foundations of authority. With the emergence of global knowledge conflicts, there is thus a growing need to rethink policy expertise and to find new modes to coordinate governance and epistemic authority on a transnational level.
To be sure, research on policy advice has provided a great number of comparative studies mapping the interactions among science, expertise and politics across countries. More recently, approaches on transnational governance started to explore modes of organizing expertise such as think-tanks, global knowledge networks or knowledge regimes in the ‘global agora’ (Stone). There are, however, only few studies specifically asking for the global forces that shape the interlinkages and collisions between epistemic and governance authority.
The workshop aims at investigating these changing constellations of authority under the conditions of the post-national constellation by bringing together papers across a wide variety of disciplines and areas of research (including but not limited to research on global governance, sociology of professions, policy analysis, international relations, STS, public management, etc.). We are interested in theoretically sound and empirically rich contributions focusing on transformations, erosions or emerging configurations at the nexus between epistemic and governance authority. Papers should possibly address the following key questions highlighting the social, temporal and object-related dimensions of global authority relations:
(1) Mapping authority: Actors who claim epistemic and governance authority typically find themselves competing with other actors raising similar claims. Interdependencies between different domains lead to complex webs of overlapping and conflicting post-national arrangements of ‘relative authority’ (Roughan). In these arrangements authority can never be final but is continuously negotiated, adjusted and maintained. What are the coordination strategies and dominating struggles structuring the interactions? Who are the main actor constellations and what are their action frames or organizing principles? To whom are claims of having expertise addressed and who acknowledges them? Through which processes and mechanisms do claims to expertise become connected to the authority to make and enforce rules?
(2) Embedding authority: Only few studies have focused on the cultural, institutional, normative and discursive forces shaping the public acceptance, (re)production and transformation of both, epistemic and governance authority. First comparisons show that the ‘institutionalized practices by which members of a given society test and deploy knowledge claims’ (Jasanoff) vary fundamentally. This contextual specificity of knowledge production and validation could explain why – despite an international system that is increasingly standardized and isomorphic – understandings and influences of authority differ greatly across regions and sectors. How can we explain the varieties of (combining and contesting) both, epistemic and governance authority across jurisdictions, sectors and fields? What are the dominating institutional and/or discursive mechanisms of attributing, validating, (e)valuating and justifying authority? How are these configurations and contexts related to each other, what are the main tensions and normative contestations? How are they changing in the post-national constellation?
(3) Transforming authority: Observations vary on how authority is changing in modern societies. At certain times, authority has been transformed dramatically and deeply, leading to new constellations and coalitions of expertise. Some argue that there is an increasing fragmentation and contestation of authority leading to an age of ‘multiple authorities’ (Giddens). Others contend that in light of more effective forms of control authority has become ‘redundant’ (Baumann). What are the main conflicts and contradictions? How have authority relations changed in recent history? What are new and emerging modes of expertise?
(4) Objectifying authority: Under post-national conditions, authority depends massively on objects such as statistics, simulations, classifications, rankings, surveys or maps. As configurations of evidence, these objects tend to be regarded as collectively visible and more or less unquestionable certainties, i.e. as facts. They fulfil an important function in stabilizing and legitimating the integrity of epistemic and governance authority across fields, times and places. Visualizations, quantifications, standards or even virtual agents constitute ‘boundary objects’ (Star) mediating among, science, politics and the public. How exactly do boundary objects help to stabilize or de-stabilize authority and what are the main mechanisms (e.g. black-boxing, mobilizing
hidden assumptions)? What role are they playing in the global politics of acceptance? In what ways have objects impregnated or changed the notions of authority? How are they related to global hierarchies, modes of domination or dynamics of exclusion?
Date and Location
The workshop will take place from 6th–8th September 2016 at the Centre for Global Cooperation Research, University of Duisburg-Essen (Schifferstr. 196, 47059 Duisburg).
Application can be submitted at by 31st July 2016. Please note that the application requires an abstract (one page maximum). Paper givers should be prepared to submit an extended abstract (six pages maximum) by 30th August 2016.
Sigrid Quack, University of Duisburg (
Holger Strassheim, Käte Hamburger Kolleg/ Centre for Global Cooperation Research (