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Interactional Expertise and the Imitation Game Robert Evans and Harry Collins Introduction Interactional expertise provides one solution to the problem of coordination created by the existence of different cultures. Though it is not the only resolution, it has particular relevance for social scientists as it justifies their own status as experts. Put another way, if there was no such thing as interactional expertise, interpretive sociology would be impossible unless social scientists more or less completely shared the physical experiences of those they research. But, to give one counterexample, a criminologist can succeed without first committing crimes. Indeed, if shared practice were always a prerequisite for understanding, then not only would social science in general become impossible, but each of us would live in small private boxes of practice conceptually opaque to our collaborators, family members, and lovers. We call the expertise that bridges distinct practice through a deep sharing of discourse “interactional expertise.” Interactional expertise can be acquired by the usual techniques of social science fieldwork—participant observation and immersion in the discourse of a community. The strong claim is that immersion in the discourse is just as good as immersion in the practices, so long as the aim is competence in tasks in which practice is not required (Collins 2004, 2007; Giles 2006). In a trading zone, a person with interactional expertise could move smoothly between different social groups, “translating” the concerns of one into the language of the other and vice versa (Ribeiro 2007a, 2007b; Shrager 2007; Collins, Evans, and Gorman, this volume). Such abilities are what make the division of labor possible. The idea of interactional expertise is, therefore, important even though, in practice, separating the linguistic and practical elements of expertise is not easy. In what follows, we set out the idea in more detail before describing an experimental protocol for investigating it empirically. 4 54 Robert Evans and Harry Collins Periodic Table of Expertises The idea of interactional expertise is part of a more broad-ranging approach to the study of expertise known as studies of expertise and experience (SEE). First proposed in the paper “Third Wave of Science Studies” (Collins and Evans 2002) and subsequently developed as a book (Collins and Evans 2007) and illustrated in a special issue of Studies in History and Philosophy of Science (Collins 2007), the SEE approach sets out a normative approach to expertise that starts from the sociological axiom that knowledge is grounded in the life of a community. This emphasis on experience and socialization serves as the link between SEE and mainstream work in contemporary science and technology studies (STS), which we called the Second Wave of STS. Like Wave Two, the sociological approach of SEE stresses the importance of socialization in the creation, transfer, and application of knowledge. This is important because tacit knowledge is an essential part of any social practice, including science, but the only known way of transferring tacit knowledge is by social interaction. In other words, without social interaction, tacit knowledge cannot be acquired and practice will invariably fail in new contexts . High-level expertises like interactional expertise therefore depend on mastering the tacit knowledge needed to speak a language fluently and to respond to novel problems. This same emphasis on experience and socialization also marks the SEE perspective as different from Wave Two STS. Whereas Wave Two is primarily concerned with documenting how scientific controversies and practice unfold over time, SEE is more concerned with intervening in real time to make a difference in the way scientific controversies are understood as they happen. Put slightly differently, SEE is concerned with the difference between what we have dubbed the problem of legitimacy and the problem of extension (Collins and Evans 2002). Wave Two STS directs attention to the problem of legitimacy by showing how the boundary work of the scientific community and their supporters serves to exclude those with other kinds of expertise and experience, and shows how the legitimacy of such decisions could be increased if more heterogeneous forms of participation were developed (Irwin 1995; Funtowicz and Ravetz 1993). In contrast, SEE is concerned with the emergent problem of extension, which is created by the inability of Wave Two to draw a boundary around those who might be counted as legitimate contributors to technical debate. By classifying and distinguishing between different types of expertise, SEE aims to rescue the idea of expertise from the corrosive implications Interactional Expertise and the Imitation Game 55 of STS; Wave Three is intended to show...


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