Expertise and method

I’ve been reading more into different areas which could be worth exploring in my research, as I start thinking in more depth about a theoretical framework. In the past couple of weeks I’ve taken a break from re-visiting what I’ve read already and took a look at two more concepts – complexity theory and expertise.

Complexity theory

I’ve only read one piece on complexity theory, Comunian’s Rethinking the Creative City (2011). She uses complexity theory to look at the connection between urban space and the systems of local cultural production and consumption. Comunian emphasises the importance of micro interactions and networks between creative practitioners, the cultural sector and the cultural infrastructure of a city. Like me, she argues that not enough attention is given to the nature of interactions between creative workers. While complexity theory may have some uses for this, there are many challenges with multi-level interpretation of data, and the theory overall doesn’t quite seem to ‘fit’ with measuring micro level human interaction. I won’t proceed any further with my exploration into complexity theory, but this piece was particularly useful in raising important questions about methodology, which I will talk about again later.


In searching for literature around expertise and the creative industries I came across Tulloch’s Performing Culture (1999). Tulloch talks about the tensions between the everyday and expertise, and argues that the distinctions between the two are blurred. I see paralells in this between what I’ve been reading about technology and labour, notably Melissa Gregg’s work on performing professionalism. Tulloch acknowledges some of the performance theory I’m going to look at such as Goffman and Butler, however the ideas of Ien Ang (1996) and Terry Threadgold’s (1997) emphasis on reflexive storytelling and performance are the basis for his approach. He looks at several aspects of performing culture and performing expertise – from academics to theatre performers – to support his argument that both everyday and expert knowledge are stories that are told and performed, and that academic ‘expertise’ in the field of cultural studies should be questioned. He argues that people actively construct their own identities and tell their own stories by utilising a combination of lay and expert knowledge.

A lot of the book was concerned with contributing to an understanding of media production and consumption. Nowadays there is little or no separation between production and consumption thanks to social media and mobile technology, so for the blurring of distinctions which Tulloch often refers to in relation to agency/structure, high/popular culture and expertise/everyday, production/consumption can be added to that list.  ‘Expertise’ in itself is not explored in any great depth; it’s assumed that the performers, producers and academics possess the ‘expert’ knowledge. Again, distinctions here (particularly in the creative industries), could be blurred and may be worth exploring in my research. For example, if someone says they’re an ‘expert’ of a particular field on their Twitter bio, what entitles them to say that?

Though I found much of the book will not be useful for me because it deals a lot with media production, it reminded me of much of the core media theory which I am going to revisit, such as the work of Raymond Williams and de Saussre, because starting from the core theory will be valuable in helping me to define my theoretical framework.

Prince (2010) has looked at expertise in the UK creative industries and how it came to prominence within government assemblages. He mentions how new technologies have enabled marginalised groups to engage with and influence government assemblages. It’s a good starting point for the concept of expert power within a certain structure. It would have been useful to tease out the experts’ perception of their own expertise in the interviews, and the author acknowledges that further work should be carried out in this area. I will continue to look at literature around expertise, because the link between performance, performativity and expertise is worth looking at for my research.

Prince’s discussion was strictly within the context of government assemblages and it would be useful to explore this concept within other structures outside of government.


Assemblages are also talked about in something else I’ve been reading around methodologies – The Double Social Life of Methods by Law, Ruppert and Savage (2011). The piece is a thoughtful discussion about how research methods are both constituted by, and constitute, the social world they research. The authors argue that current methods do not allow us to discover new realities or try new methodological assemblages. The application of complexity theory to creative industries systems is an example of this. Even though this was worth trying and some insights were provided, the method was incompatible in many ways. This concern of ill-fitting methodologies was raised when I went to the Researching Social Media conference last year – how the nature of social media doesn’t lend itself to being researched using traditional research methods, and new ways need to be explored. For me the method will be a part of my literature survey, because I will be looking to adapt or create a method for this research and as argued by Law et al, this requires some thinking about what methods actually do and the assumptions embedded within them.

I’m going to concentrate on reading further within the themes discussed in this post, because whilst some of what I’ve read may not be useful, it has signposted me to topics and debates which could be more relevant to my research than areas such as capital, which I’ve already spent a lot of time on.


About Karen Patel

PhD candidate in social media and cultural work at Birmingham City University.
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