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Expert authority in crisis: Making authority real through struggle

Reed, Cara ORCID: and Reed, Michael ORCID: 2022. Expert authority in crisis: Making authority real through struggle. Organization Theory 3 (4) , pp. 1-21. 10.1177/26317877221131587

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here is an emerging consensus both within the social scientific research community and more widely in the public domain that expert authority is “in trouble.” However, there is much greater disagreement over the scope and scale of this trouble and what it might mean for the nature, status, and significance of expert authority in the 21st century. This paper identifies and assesses three different narratives concerning the crisis in expert authority. These constitute the delegitimation narrative, the demystification narrative, and the decomposition narrative. They can be seen as responses to the breakdown in the implicit social contract between experts, publics, and states under the extreme and continuous pressures exerted on expert authority by disjunctive change. We evaluate these various interpretations of the crisis in expert authority, particularly in terms of what they suggest about the future potency and stability of the concept of expert authority. In this process of evaluation, we also highlight the emergence of reflexive expert authority and its implications for organizational governance as potential outcomes of this ongoing crisis in the legitimacy and status of expert workers. Consequently, the paper provides a general analytical framework for understanding the emergent narratives around expert authority in democracies and highlights how all three narratives point to serious problems in sustaining this authority in the face of destabilizing change. Furthermore, in developing the notion of reflexive expert authority, we contend that theorization of expert authority needs to privilege the deeper dynamics of trust and control at the core of its analytical focus within organization theory.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Business (Including Economics)
Publisher: SAGE
ISSN: 2631-7877
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 11 October 2022
Date of Acceptance: 9 August 2022
Last Modified: 08 May 2023 15:51

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