Expertise and the Metaphor of Outsourcing

Posted on January 7, 2010 by


Was reading Emily Martin’s Flexible Bodies.

I came across a quote that highlighted how the idea of “expertise” in the sciences (and perhaps academia and academia’s language in general) dis-empowers ordinary folk’s opinions and experiences.

The problem of expertise took two forms.  From time to time in the neighborhood interviews, people felt as if they were being tested on subjects about which they had limited knowledge.  In spite of the students’ and my eloquent (and accurate) statements that we were not experts in biology or medicine either, such is the authority of science and medicine in this society that sometimes these assurances were not enough.

One man was worried about sounding like a dummy and wanted Monica to correct him. Another, when asked what he thought of the interview, said he liked how open ended it was but wanted us to contact him later to correct anything he might have got wrong. – (12) Emily Martin, Flexible Bodies

Wanting to be corrected.  Heh, it reminds me of how I wanted an ex to tell me how bad I was in the bedroom because I thought I was really bad.  Hey, I was 19 or something.  Now, at 25, I’m just really really bad.  Giggles.

Even though they were solicited specifically for their opinions, at least two people still wanted to be corrected.  They craved correction like I crave a butt-smacking from a certain Chinese-Jewish girl.

The interviewees reactions reminds me of how decisionmaking might be inhibited when listening to experts. (Pointed out to me by the Eide Neurolearning Blog.)

A brain-scanning study of people making financial choices suggests that when given expert advice, the decision-making parts of our brains often shut down.

…Says Greg Berns, an Emory University neuroscientist, “It’s as if people weren’t using their own internal value mechanisms.”

The reaction of those interviewees brings me to the concept of “outsourcing.”

“Outsourcing” is the process of contracting a service to a third party.

In the context in which I live, the Los Angeles, information-based economy heavily influenced by the internetz, “outsourcing” is associated with moving jobs overseas or giving jobs to some other country, because “they” (hello India or the Philippines!) are cheaper.

So the interviewees aching to defer to these academics who can be perceived to be close to that knowledge.   They wanted to give the “job” of getting it right to those who were perceived to be authorities

“To outsource” what they did not know to the expert.

Maybe its the Puritan hard-workin’ “American” in me, but I wonder if were losing something valuable by all this “outsourcing?”  What knowledges are we losing touch with in our ever-evolving technocrato-cracy?

It’s like were increasingly specialized to the point where were only qualified to manage a bunch of technologies.  But if it breaks down, then what?