CFP: Special Issue on Technological Expertise and Publics

To be published in Communication and The Public (SAGE)

Andrew R. Schrock
Samantha Close

Submission Deadline: November 15, 2016

Communication has a long and rich history of debating the relationship between publics and expertise. James Carey (1989) famously critiqued Walter Lippmann (1922) for an elitist reliance on expertise in the formation of public opinion. Carey preferred Dewey’s (1927) notion of “public,” deeming Lippmann’s stance elitist. Habermas’ public sphere similarly does not favor experts, and communication as a discipline has largely favored publics over expertise. However, Michael Schudson (2008) suggested that Carey’s framing of the Dewey-Lippmann “debate” favoring publics missed important reasons why expertise is vital to democracy. He argued that Lippman’s intent was that “experts were not to replace the public… rather experts were to provide an alternative source of knowledge and policy” (p. 10).

Technology imposes another level of complexity to this debate. By some readings, a need for technological literacies presents a challenge to public communication. Meritocratic or generation-based theories of “digital natives” and “geeks” seem to preclude the formation of broad-based publics (Prensky, 2001). Early concern about a divide of technological access has moved to focus on the unequal distribution of expertise and opportunities to gain it through acquisition of technical skills and media literacies (Jenkins et al., 2009). New forms of experts and expertise have emerged as particularly important to publics, even vital for their existence. Technological intermediaries, such as hackers, are increasingly important to translate and publicize technological issues of public importance (e.g. open data, digital privacy, surveillance). Networked publics on online platforms require expert maintenance work to exist, even when all members of the public need not be experts. The “horizontalist” movement Occupy developed and appropriated technologies to assist the public in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy. Expertise played a vital role that did not preclude a public, but helped it flourish.

We suggest that expertise and publics have always been productively entangled rather than on opposing sides of a binary. This special issue examines the role of technological expertise in constituting publics, maintaining publics, increasing publics’ communicative capacities, influencing existing structures of cultural and governmental power, and connecting with issues of public concern. We ask a set of related questions: how does expertise contribute to the formation of publics and enabling of collective action? Conversely, when does the unequal distribution of expertise inhibit the constitution of publics? How does expertise create public goods? How does it mediate the societal distribution of power? What are the diverse ways expertise can be conceptualized? What is the relationship between technological expertise and other kinds of expertise, such as communicative or social? How does the line between “the public” and “expert” become crossed or blurred?

In keeping with the journal’s scope, submissions must be empirical and grounded in specific definitions of the public and expertise. A particular form of technology should be relevant to the public’s coherence or collective action. Authors are encouraged to take a novel or provocative perspective on the relationships between publics and expertise. Submissions must be formatted according to the journal’s APA 6 format requirements (see manuscript style guidelines). Complete articles are due in Microsoft Word format by 11/15/16 (midnight PST) by email to Dr. Andrew Schrock to the following email address: me [at symbol] aschrock (dot) com. We particularly welcome quantitative and qualitative submissions in the following areas:

  • Expertise in media creation and circulation
  • “Data intermediaries” involved in collecting and interpreting data for the public good
  • Maintenance and support of platforms and infrastructures
  • Technological maintenance and support
  • “Participatory expertise” acquired through collaboration and engagement
  • Tensions between participatory ideals and expertise
  • Failure of technological expertise in matters of public concern
  • The social and cultural construction of technological expertise
  • When and how expertise is contested in the public sphere
  • Technological expertise and publics beyond the United States and western Europe

Editor Bios:

Andrew Schrock, Ph.D. (@aschrock) is a scholar-researcher-practitioner interested in how people engage politically around data issues and collaborate on technological projects with a civic dimension. He currently is a director of the Long Beach Community Database, faculty at Woodbury University, and recently co-edited a special issue of New Media & Society on hacking and making. His writing has also appeared in the International Journal of Communication, Social Media + Society, and American Behavioral Scientist.

Samantha Close (@butnocigar) is a doctoral candidate in Communication at the University of Southern California. Her research interests include digital media, theory-practice, political economy, fan studies, gender, and race. She focuses particularly on labor and transforming models of creative industries and capitalism. Her documentary “I Am Handmade: Crafting in the Age of Computers,” based on her on-going dissertation work into the economic culture of crafting, is hosted online by Vice Media’s Motherboard channel. Her writing appears in the academic journals Feminist Media Studies, Transformative Works and Cultures, and Anthropology Now.

Carey, J. W. (1989). Communication as culture: Essays on media and society. New York: Routledge.
Dewey, J. (1927). The public and its problems. Athens: Swallow Press.
Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Weigel, M., Clinton, K., & Robison, A. J. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Lippmann, Walter. (1922). Public opinion. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace and Company.
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the horizon, 9(5), 1-6.
Schudson, M. (2008). The “Lippmann-Dewey Debate” and the Invention of Walter Lippmann as an Anti-Democrat 1986-1996. International Journal of Communication, 2.