Expertise continued: performance and the everyday

I’ve been reading more about the philosophy of expertise and attempting to write more formally which is helping me to question and think things through. Below is what I’ve written as a continuation from my previous post about the legitimacy of expertise. This led me to work by Collins and Evans (2006). The work of Collins was critiqued by a BCU colleague, Mark Addis (2013), about which I will go into further depth below.

Collins and Evans (2006) problematise the legitimacy of expertise. They propose an adoption of SEE (Studies of Experience and Expertise) to conceptualise different categorisations of expertise, because they argue that specific scientific expertise should not be assumed to be legitimate, and that a consideration of other types of expertise, particularly what they like to call ‘experience based expertise’ (rather than Wynne’s (1991) ‘lay expertise’, a term they prefer to avoid) is required. They describe the ‘problem of extension’ – the extension of expertise outside of its core of specialist experts to those with more practice based (or ‘interactional’ expertise). The problem they pose is how far should participation in decision making extend? The authors focus on certified scientific expertise and their model of extension suggests that this is at the core, and is extended to those without formal certification but with specialist knowledge gained through experience. What about expertise in other fields outside of the sciences? Are they part of the ‘extension’ and peripheral to scientific expertise, or do they have their own core? Expertise in the arts, and creative and cultural industries, is likely to operate differently from the scientific, as the authors acknowledge using the judgement of the artist Tracy Emin’s ‘Bed’ as an example:

The appropriate group of judges, it was said, is not artists in general, nor even artists of the type who display their unmade beds (and the like) but art critics. […] this class of experts with ‘interactional expertise’ rather than ‘contributory expertise’. It may be one of the ways in which science and art are different.

(Collins and Evans, 2006:48)

Contributory expertise is what these authors associate with scientific expertise – contributing to knowledge. However, the authors suggest that ‘interactional expertise’ can be possessed instead of ‘contributory expertise’ which is not helpful, because it suggests that art critics can only have interactional expertise when this may not always be the case. Contributory expertise should not necessarily be confined to the sciences; only then can the problems of extension, and the problems of suitable reference points for expertise that the authors highlight, can be addressed. Every field, outside of the sciences, will have its own set of experts and reference points and each should be taken into account considering the context of that field. Addis (2013) highlights this lack of context in the model of ‘extension’ especially in regard to attempting to encompass everyday expertise:

Against Collins, it will be argued that the term ‘expertise’ should be reserved for expertise (esoteric experts) and exclude everyday performance (ubiquitous experts). Expertise is not ordinary competence or performance and extending the former so that it encompasses the latter is neither warranted nor enlightening.

Addis (2013:328)

Addis also argues that Collins’ work in SEE doesn’t take into account the thoughts of others in gaining expertise, which is important because the processes of gaining formal qualifications and certifications to become an ‘expert’ require some form of peer judgement, regardless of field. Addis, in work carried out with David Boyd (2011) on the expertise of construction workers, utilises the phenomenological account of expertise by Hubert and Stuart Dreyfus (1986) to discuss skills acquisition. The five step model is better understood as a spectrum from novice to expert, and one moves along the spectrum through skills acquisition. When one then becomes ‘expert’ at something, it becomes a fluid and embodied performance, a part of the every day. Experts can respond quickly and intuitively to a variety of problems (Addis and Boyd, 2011) and offer reason – experts tend to “know how” rather than “know what” (Ryle, 1984). If we refer back to my previous post about legitimacy of expertise and what I quoted from De Certeau (1984) – he argues that the discourse of ‘knowing how’ rather than ‘knowing what’ (or what he calls knowledgeable discourse) is what is de-legitimising expertise. I’m finding that this tension between knowledge expertise and practical expertise is apparent in most expertise literature. The work of Dreyfus and Dreyfus (1986) addresses much more of the practical.

Dreyfus and Dreyfus, who talk about expertise performance, use the term ‘performance’ in a way which is slightly different from how I have approached performance previously. They talk about performance as how one carries out a task, or their job, and their competence, or expertise with it, much like the performance of a car, or a bicycle, or a computer. However, people are not cars or bicycles, and though their approach is referred to by Addis and Boyd (2011) as ‘expertise-in-context’ (p.5), Selinger and Crease (2006) point out that the approach by Dreyfus and Dreyfus actually misses much context – as they explain in their critique of Hubert Dreyfus’s account:

The flaw in his assumption that skilled behaviour crystallises out of contextual sensitivity plus experience without contribution from individual or cultural biography can be traced to a failure to take into account that the embodied subject, even when behaving expertly, bring to the situation what has been historically and culturally transmitted to it.

(Selinger and Crease, 2006:228)

Selinger and Crease argue that expertise needs to be approached in a more culturally and contextually sensitive way, which is why I feel the use of the word ‘performance’ in this context of expert performance, should be problematised through my work.

When someone uses social media, how much do they think about it? The Dreyfus model suggests when one really needs to think about a task, they are nearer to the ‘novice’ end of the expertise spectrum. However, if they are thinking strategically about what to say, their audience, when to post, to bring the “greatest gain in social capital or professional reputation, at least cost to the individual” (Gilpin, 2011:244), that doesn’t make them a ‘novice’ by any means. Yet those who tend to tweet or post things, seemingly without thinking get into a lot of hot water, there are countless examples of this happening in many contexts. Does that make them an expert? Here I’m speaking in terms of the practical use of social media, and that alone illustrates how the traditional models of expertise can be problematised in the ‘social media age’. Use of the word ‘performance’ here has more to do with the Goffman-esque conception of presentation of self, rather than technical competence.

In addition, Dreyfus and Dreyfus talk about expertise and the everyday and how experts approach such complex tasks as easily as people do walking and other everyday activities. As Selinger and Crease point out, there are fundamental problems in terms of categorisation of experts and expert tasks:

On the one hand, he [Hubert Dreyfus] refers to people who are socially recognised as experts, such as airplane pilots, surgeons and chess masters, to illustrate how embodied expert performance functions […] on the other hand, he portrays mundane examples of everyday action, such as driving a car, walking, talking and carrying on a conversation, as paradigmatic instances of how experts behave, even though these activities would not normally be socially recognised as being performed by experts.

(Selinger and Crease, 2006:229)

The idea of expertise and the everyday is something I aim to unpack in my exploration of creative workers and their everyday use of social media. How much do they think about it? Both in terms of when and how they use it, and how conscious they are of ‘performance’? How does their everyday competence/expertise with social media (or not?) fit in with their everyday competence/expertise of their creative practice?

Though there is much to be learned from Selinger and Crease’s useful critique of the Dreyfus phenomenological approach, particularly their suggestion of expertise being looked at in a culturally as well as socially situated way, I suggest that the reflexivity of the individual should also be taken into account. Selinger and Crease agree with Dreyfus and Dreyfus on the assumption that the expert may not always have a complete cognitive grasp on their own expert behaviour, but how do we know this? Again, in my own research, where more conscious thought and strategy may be needed in order to perform expertise on social media, the reflexive process of the individual should be considered.


Addis, M (2013) Linguistic Competence and Expertise. Tacit Knowledge: New Theories and Practices 12(2) 2013.

Boyd, D. and Addis, M. (2011). Moving from knowledge management to expertise management: a problem of contexts [PDF] Available at

Collins and Evans (2006) The third wave of science studies: studies of expertise and experience in Selinger, E. And Crease, R.P.eds. The Philosophy of Expertise, pp.39-110

Dreyfus, H. L., & Dreyfus, S. E. (1986). From Socrates to expert systems: The limits of calculative rationality (pp. 111-130). Springer Netherlands

De Certeau, M (1984) The Practice of Everyday life

Gilpin, D. R. (2011). Working the Twittersphere: Microblogging as professional identity construction. A networked self: Identity, community and culture on social network sites. New York: Routledge, 232-250.

Ryle, G. (1984). The concept of mind (1949). London: Hutchinson.

Selinger, E and Crease, R.P. (2006) Dreyfus on Expertise: the Limits of Phenomenological Analysis in Selinger, E. And Crease, R.P.eds. The Philosophy of Expertise, pp.39-110.

Wynne, B. (1991) “Sheep Farming after Chernobyl: a Case Study in Communicating Scientific Information,” in H. Bradby (ed.) Dirty Words: Writings on the History and Culture of Pollution, pp. 139–60. London: Earthscan.


About Karen Patel

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