“Experts are in the role of being asked questions they cannot possibly answer”. An interview with Gil Eyal.

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On Thursday the 17th January, Gil Eyal has the generosity of meeting us in Columbia University to answer some questions related to his work. Gil is professor of classical theory and sociology of expertise in the department of sociology and he is one of the most prestigious sociologists in the study of economists and neoliberalism. His first research concerns were related to Eastern European State bureaucrats and new social classes. At 2002, he published a landmark paper with Johanna Bockman using the latourian idea of translation to understand neoliberalism and global networks and in 2010 he co-authored an influential review of current sociology of interventions. Most recently he was interested in autism and the role of different experts in its construction and treatment. Here the questions and our dialogue.

Q1.Your first analyses about central and Eastern Europe paid particular attention to classes in the transition between communist and capitalist regimes. Those that have studied Brazilian, Mexican and Argentinean’s industrialization processes, usually accorded to State officials and bureaucrats the same importance that you have accorded to them in your Eastern Europe analyses. Faced with this common concern, we have the impression that researches in terms of classes and researches in terms of elites or experts have recently split into two separate subjects with no common points of discussion. Do you think it is just a question of intellectual trends or that this separation expresses changes in our societies? As you have recently focused in expertise, do you think the combination of both perspectives has lost its interest?

A1. [5.01 mins.] 

Q2. Your paper with Johanna Bockman about Eastern Europe as a Laboratory for Economic Knowledge has been a landmark in the study of neoliberalism and the way it was constructed through international networks and not transferred from one active author to a passive recipient. Do you think that economic knowledge has any particularity for this process of translation or that any innovation could be interpreted in the same way?

A2. [3.19 mins.]

Q3. Having studied the process of translation in non-Western countries, is it possible to integrate the Latourian perspective on translation with the consideration of social and international inequalities?

A3. [2.12 mins.]

Q4. You have analyzed elites in very different countries: managers in postcommunist countries, experts in the Eastern European reforms, intellectuals in the US. At the same time, you have been influenced by French theory and in particular by the Latourian proposal to follow actors throughout their interventions. Sometimes, studding elites’ interventions from an anthropological perspective is difficult and these difficulties are sometimes higher in less democratic countries. How have you solved these constraints in your work? How can we study elites’ interventions if we have no direct access to their practices?

A4. [3.01 mins.]

Q5. Very few scholars have developed systematic research on experts formed in social sciences and others formed in biological or natural sciences. Do you see economists differently after these recent experiences? Has it be insightful for your analysis of economists and politics the study of biologist and doctors?

A5. [4.04 mins.]

Q6. Many of us are inspired by the sociology of sciences, is there any particularity in the study of social sciences and humanities face with the study of other natural sciences?

A6. [1.14 mins.]

Q7. You seemed to be deeply inspired by the weberian tradition. The interest in expertise and technical democracies seem to bring back most of the German sociologist concerns. Being professor of classical theory and at the same time a researcher in sociology of expertise, which do you think are the main contribution of this recent literature on expertise and expert intervention to Weberian tradition?

A7. [4.39 mins.]

Q8. You are now interested in expertise, could you tell us what are your most recent research concerns?

A8. [7.47 mins.]

Q9. In your syllabus, you classify theory into positivist, emancipatory and critical sociologies. Could you develop this idea and also after studying scientists and experts, is there any insight we can take from them for our practice as knowledge producers and eventually as experts.

A9. [11.44mins.]

Interview: Mariana Heredia

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  • tomasundurraga  On February 6, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Muy buena entrevista Mariana, gracias! Me quedo una duda sobre como Gil Eyal integra etnografias e historia como metodos de investigacion. En cierta forma su propuesta de hacer etnografias historicamente informadas me parecio mas viable que hacer historia etnograficamente informada, por un asunto de temporalidad. O se referia a una historia del presente?


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