What is the role of expertise in reproducing austerity and how might this be challenged by the left? The implementation of austerity policies, the widespread public backlash to these policies and the role that expertise has played in their implementation have contributed to highlighting many of the pathologies of neoliberalism, particularly widening geographical and intergenerational divisions. This article adopts the sociological approach to expertise developed by Harry Collins and colleagues in the ‘Studies of Expertise and Experience’ field. Here expertise is understood as relational in the sense that expertise is not recognized by the extent to which it can be said to be right but rather experts are recognized by their own social group. It argues that this relational approach to expertise is explicitly political in nature, involving inclusions and exclusions based on pre-existing power relations and can be further extended to incorporate the relational nature in which various forms of expertise or knowledge are accepted as being authoritative by the broader public. Using examples from the UK, Portugal and Spain, principally in the area of housing and urban politics, this article explores how expertise under neoliberalism can be understood spatially. Local expertise under austerity is focused on either minimizing social harms which may arise – food banks, housing shelters, community social care – or else is directed towards competing for external investment, promoting policies of regeneration and gentrification for the benefit of foreign capital rather than existing populations. A progressive, relational and political expertise should, however, not merely point to the failures of the current system but shape events. The recent growth in social movements has made some progress in challenging austerity, in practice and discourse, and points towards a more joined-up thinking in which knowledge production is clearly and unambiguously linked to action.
- left politics
- urban politics