Misreading Experts: The case of the politics of climate change

On Wednesday the 23th of september Dr. Darrin Durant (University of Melbourne) will give a seminar on the politics of climate change.

Photo: University of Melbourne

What can the politics of climate change tell us about expertise, in general? And what can the politics of climate change tell us about the politics of Science and Technology Studies (STS), specifically? Maybe, of course, the two are not unrelated.

Different stories

I begin by recounting a story probably familiar to many, which asks why little gets done about climate change, the answer being some mix of conservative political interests or the state of capitalism or just bad timing as neoliberalism took hold. But then I compare that story to the story many of my STS colleagues have told about the politics of climate change. Here we have a story about experts behaving badly; specifically, being very unreflexive and wannabe dictators.

Immediately we are struck by the contrast, the political world or the experts behaving badly, depending upon who tells the story. So I tell another story. This story presents some of the results of a pilot project on climate change experts in Australia. Rather than lob stones at experts from afar, as I speculate some of my STS colleagues telling the stories noted above have done, I went and talked to the experts. I conducted a series of interviews with experts on the government Climate Change Authority and the (recently out of government) Climate Council.

Misreading experts

Either these Australians involved in climate change policy domains are exceptions to the apparent STS rule (of being unreflexive dictators), or there is something amiss with that apparent STS rule. I conclude the latter, and outline what might be another STS rule in play (given that I am an STS scholar and so must be allowed to make up my own rules too). My Aussie experts are not as (what I am calling) quixotically unreflexive as some subset of my STS colleagues’ general analysis of climate change politics would imply, not because of some random exceptionalism, but because they might the heirs to a sociological tradition I suggest STS only partially buys into but probably should buy into much more. Put succinctly, we should follow Alvin Gouldner more than we follow Howard Becker, and it might mean we misread experts a little less.


Dr. Darrin Durant

Lecturer in Science and Technology Studies

History and Philosophy of Science

School of Historical and Philosophical Studies

University of Melbourne

Published Sep. 11, 2015 10:45 AM - Last modified Sep. 14, 2015 8:58 AM