Expertise Under Pressure


What is the role of experts in understanding social change? Expert judgment today is both intensely sought out, across private and public spheres, and also intensely criticised and derided with well-publicised failures to predict various high profile social and natural phenomena. Does the problem lie with the very idea that objective expertise about complex processes is attainable? Or does it stem from the way that expert judgment is developed and communicated? Or, perhaps it reflects the diminished standing of experts and expert knowledge in democratic and pluralistic societies? To explore these questions, we propose three case studies in which expert judgment is both consequential and controversial. They are the UK Government’s emergency response, the use of agglomeration theory in city planning, and deep philosophical controversies about the possibility and objectivity of social science. These cases differ in scope and focus but they enable us to analyse four distinct features of legitimate expertise: sensitivity to temporal scale, translatability in space, ambivalence about precision, and moral responsibility. The overarching goal of the project is to establish a broad framework for understanding what makes expertise authoritative, when experts overreach, and what realistic demands communities should place on experts. 

This project is part of the Centre for the Humanities and Social Change, Cambridge, funded by the Humanities and Social Change International Foundation.


From left to right: Robert Doubleday, Anna Alexandrova, Emily So and Michael Kenny

Dr Anna Alexandrova, Principal Investigator
Professor Michael Kenny, Co-Investigator
Dr Emily So, Co-Investigator
Dr Robert Doubleday, Co-Investigator
• Hannah Baker, Postdoctoral Research Associate
Dr Federico Brandmayr, Postdoctoral Research Associate
• Dr Cléo Chassonnery-Zaïgouche, Postdoctoral Research Associate
Una Yeung, Project Administrator

Click here to meet the team. 


Forthcoming events

When Does Explaining Become Explaining Away? Compassion, Justification and Exculpation in Social Research, Workshop, 27 September 2019

Indebted: Student Finance, Social Speculation, and the Future of the US Family, Caitlin Zaloom (New York University), 14 October 2019

Life and Death of GDP, Diane Coyle (University of Cambridge), 29 October 2019

The Politics of Law & Economics, David Gindis (University of Hertfordshire) and Steven Medema (Duke University, USA), 12 November 2019 

Previous events

Expert Bites Seminar, with Alice Vadrot (Political Science, University of Vienna), 21 June 2019

Expert Bites Seminar, with Arsenii Khitrov (Sociology, Cambridge), 22 May 2019

Expert Bites Seminar, with Elizabeth Anderson (Philosophy, University of Michigan), 15 May 2019

Centre for Science and Policy Forum ( held jointly with Expertise Under Pressure ), Summer Roundtable, 8 May 2019

Expert Bites Seminar, with Mike Hulme (Geography, Cambridge), 26 March 2019

Expert Bites Seminar, with Alfred Moore (Politics, University of York), 28 November 2019

Centre for Science and Policy Forum ( held jointly with Expertise Under Pressure ), What is Progress?, 23 November 2019