The Political Literacy of Experts

Andreas Eriksen has published a new article on the political dimensions of expert agencies in the journal Ratio Juris


Expert agencies are entrusted with public authority in virtue of their technical competence. Areas such as environmental protection, food safety, or market stability are regulated with the backing of professional judgments regarding complex technical matters. But there is a clear political dimension to the work; regulation involves particular ways of framing problems and solutions. The very practice of regulation is bound up with evaluative concepts that are “essentially contested” or “interpretive.” Terms such as proportionality, reasonable precaution, or acceptable risk cannot be operationalized without taking a stand on evaluative matters on which there is reasonable disagreement. Moreover, expert agencies must apply these concepts in regulatory fields of heated political debate, concerning issues such as sustainability, security, and social justice. This paper seeks a model for capturing what it means for expert agencies to exercise political judgment responsibly. How can they engage with political values reflectively yet in a nonpartisan way? 

The proposal is that expert agencies must possess a form of “political literacy.” As developed here, political literacy is a tripartite capacity that enables expert agencies (1) to be aware of the intrinsic political contestedness of the concepts they operate with, (2) to recognize diverging conceptions as belonging to shared paradigms of value, and (3) to let the specification of political values be guided by the intentions of the mandate. It is a capacity we would not require of citizens as such, but rather an expectation of institutions tasked with carrying out public mandates.

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Andreas Eriksen

The Political Literacy of Experts

Ratio Juris, vol. 33, issue 1, pp. 82–97

doi: 10.1111/raju.12269

Published Apr. 27, 2020 11:27 AM - Last modified Apr. 27, 2020 11:27 AM