Ability and authority? Studies on the constructedness and expansion of expertise in the contemporary public sphere

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


This article-based dissertation investigates the constructedness and expansion of expertise in the contemporary public sphere. The dissertation is motivated by the phenomenon of salient public perplexity and competing claims to expertise in the contemporary public sphere around science-related public issues where expertise has relevance to the practice and actions of people. As this phenomenon has been notably salient regarding healthy eating as a public issue, empirically the dissertation especially deals with the constructedness of public expertise around this issue. The dissertation especially makes explicit the ways in which new types of social actors claiming expertise, as well as established, credentialed experts, construct their authority in the contemporary public sphere in the context of issues where expertise touches upon everyday life. The results of the dissertation also illuminate visible scientists and scientifically trained practitioners’ different role identities as public experts, and the relational nature and constructedness of these role identities. Furthermore, the dissertation provides new perspective on the way in which journalism and public engagement with science activities, as cultural practices that centrally mediate expertise in the contemporary public sphere, come to construct public expertise.

The theoretical framework of the dissertation is grounded in the relational perspective on expertise as developed within a constellation of social studies of science literature. From this perspective, expertise and its recognition are approached as constituted by, and constructed in, social relations. This dissertation also further contributes to this theoretical perspective by developing some novel concepts and typologies that can be utilised in the empirical study of public expertise. The four original, empirical articles analyse and illuminate the constructedness and expansion of expertise in the contemporary public sphere by focusing on the different, central arenas and social actors involved in claiming and mediating expertise in public. The materials collected and analysed in the four articles consist of observational materials and a questionnaire collected from a public engagement with science event, blog posts by popular nutrition counselling bloggers and academic experts, and in-depth interviews with journalists and visible experts on healthy eating.

The concluding chapter of the dissertation highlights how expertise in the contemporary public sphere is centrally tied to the establishment and recognition of expert authority, and not just to displaying and assessing technical expertise. It is argued that central to how expertise in the contemporary public sphere is relationally constructed is how knowledge drawn upon and advice provided are made tangible and considered to bear relevance in relation to the everyday experience and considerations of the intended public. The ways in which the related issues of individualisation and consumerism, as well as rationality and interests, relate to the constructedness of expertise in the contemporary public sphere are also highlighted. However, it is emphasised in the concluding discussion, based on the empirical findings, that there is not just one way, but a variety of ways, in which social actors actively establish expert authority by navigating these socio-cultural dynamics and positioning themselves as public experts.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Helsinki
  • Väliverronen, Esa, Supervisor
  • Mörä, Tuomo, Supervisor
Award date16 Nov 2019
Place of PublicationHelsinki
Print ISBNs978-951-51-3411-0
Electronic ISBNs978-951-51-3412-7
Publication statusPublished - 16 Nov 2019
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)

Fields of Science

  • 518 Media and communications

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