“Britain has had enough of experts”

Short Talk Session

Session Organisers: Lorna Richardson; Catriona Cooper; Neil Redfern (Historic England)

Email: lornarichardsonresearch@gmail.com

The complex cultural and social concept of expertise is central to the assignment of intellectual authority to an organisation or person. The social sciences are awash with literature which examine what exactly constitutes expertise, and definitions may encompass formal education; monopolies over esoteric skills; being ‘right’; familiarity with an obscure body of knowledge; understanding complex processes; superior judgment and decision-making – although not necessarily paid employment in exchange for expert knowledge. The concept of expert authority is ineradicably linked to the development of the process of professionalisation within occupations, which has been analysed systematically within the sociological literature since the 1930s.

Within archaeology, there is a long record of active amateur involvement in knowledge production, and scholarship, and the outputs of these have always been included in archaeological practice. Indeed, work by amateur antiquarians and archaeological societies during the 19th and early 20th centuries have been central to the foundations of the discipline itself.

There are difficult social and institutional challenges contained in how ‘expert-amateur’ discourse is constructed and legitimised: the concept of expertise is also pervasively Eurocentric, racist and colonial. The challenges of understanding the role of the expert are also inextricably linked to neoliberal economic policies, funding cuts, the marketisation of higher education and, ultimately, capitalism. This session seeks to understand how archaeological expertise has been created, maintained and embedded, and what kinds of boundary work takes place to stabilise the core characteristics of a professional expert, and a sense of entitlement to archaeological knowledge.

Keywords: authority; expertise; gatekeeping; knowledge creation; professionalisation