Theodore M. Porter, Wendy Nelson Espeland

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter examines two contrasting versions of expertise. The first, tied to traditions of professional practice in theology, medicine, and law, relies on intuitions derived from generations of experience. Even when they articulate their knowledge as rules, these professionals are likely to insist on the need to interpret these rules in applying them to particular problems and issues. The ideals of the other type of expertise are captured in phrases such as “evidence-based” or, still more austerely, “data-driven,” and often imply a dim view of professional faith in case-based reasoning as casuistry, a self-interested evasion of properly rigorous reasoning. The second type of expertise is embedded in algorithms and, in this chapter, more specifically in rankings. Rankings evaluate institutions using a standardized set of factors. The chapter focuses on the confrontations between these rival forms of expertise, and on the unintended consequences that often arise from efforts to impose numerical standards in place of experience and professional judgment in the design and evaluation of educational programs. Finally, it shows how such confrontations have stimulated the emergence of new forms of quantitative expertise.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Expertise and Democratic Politics
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9780190848958
ISBN (Print)9780190848927
StatePublished - Jan 1 2023


  • Bureaucracy
  • Data driven
  • Expertise
  • Professions
  • Quantification
  • Unintended consequences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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