- Experts, Idiots, and Liars:The Gender Politics of Knowledge and Expertise in Turbulent Times
This special issue advances feminist inquiry and theorizing of the politics of knowledge within our current, highly paradoxical societal landscape. It draws together feminist analyses of "expertise" with feminist epistemologies of situated knowledge, Black feminist thought, theory of affect and emotions, sociology of knowledge, and science and technology studies (STS). As such, it enables a timely interdisciplinary engagement with current paradigmatic shifts in knowledge production and claims to expertise as well as an examination of the gendered and racialized epistemic authority.
For several decades, the study of "knowledge," changing modes of knowledge production, and the dynamics shaping the recognition of expertise were largely confided to the specialized subfields of sociology of knowledge and STS. In the last ten to fifteen years, however, these themes have become a common research focus in a wide array of social studies, including gender studies. There are diverse reasons for the increasing popularity of this research focus, and each has profound implications for gender equality claims. The epochal transformations from industrial to knowledge-based economies and the increasing complexity of policy problems is one of the most important factors driving this increased analytical focus on knowledge. These epochal shifts have amplified the relevance of knowledge-intensive policy areas and profoundly reshaped political processes and public communication into a novel style of governing through knowledge, resulting in both the scientification of politics and heightened politicization of expertise. Feminists' mobilization of "gender experts" and the dilemmas and restrictions associated with such a position are emblematic of this style of governing through knowledge.
The advent of social media and new information technologies has also contributed to a reconfiguration of the interactions between knowledge [End Page 643] production and political processes. While early enthusiasts of social media identified its possibilities for the democratization of the public sphere and its potential to increase popular access to the production and communication of knowledge, time has revealed the attendant downsides of these technologies. For example, online forums can be, and have been, used to organize misogynistic harassment campaigns, particularly against women of color and feminist activists. Similarly, social media has helped to increase the visibility of populist and authoritarian ideologies, antigender campaigns, and the growing polarization of politics and public debates that have accompanied them. This seems to have taken many scholars by surprise, but scholars such as Donna Haraway (1991) and Ulrich Beck (1986) foresaw it decades ago.
Similarly, the contestation of the sharp distinction between academic and other forms of knowledge such as lived experience, which was crucial for women's movements and feminist academia in the 1970s, has created new possibilities for coproduction and transgressive knowledge while also providing fuel for regressive politics. Challenges to scientific knowledge abound: attacks on academic experts have become a regular feature of politics, visible in instances as wide-ranging as the handling of the global coronavirus pandemic and the US elections. These examples and ongoing assaults on gender studies in many countries are emblematic of a broader pattern of antidemocratic attacks against critical scholarship and academic freedom (Scott 2019).
The papers in this special issue explore the contradictions and implications of these shifts across diverse geopolitical spaces, highlighting the ambivalence of contemporary developments, epistemic practices, and the new possibilities and hazards that they create.
Both Azocar and Cavaghan consider the mobilization and contestation of economic expertise in policymaking in terms of the knowledge it creates and the ignorance it maintains. Azocar draws on concepts of hegemonic masculinity to analyze pension policy in Chile, a country widely recognized as a testing ground to pioneer the implementation of free market capitalism. She investigates how the private pension system introduced during Pinochet's dictatorship, and orchestrated by US-educated economists, was maintained after the transition to democracy despite its unpopularity. Although a younger generation of Chilean economists has rendered previous experts' views obsolete, this new generation has claimed expert authority using similar strategies that rely on hegemonic masculinity and technology of numbers. This includes the mobilization of gendered/generational/classed hierarchies to legitimize their authority and downgrade rival disciplines. Azocar demonstrates several interlinking processes that...