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Facing complexity: democracy, expertise and the discovery process

Greenwood, Dan (2010) Facing complexity: democracy, expertise and the discovery process. Political Studies, 58 (4). pp. 769-788. ISSN 0032-3217

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9248.2010.00851.x


As politics continues to be intertwined with complex, rapidly advancing bodies of knowledge, the question arises of how we are to understand the relationship between democracy and expertise. Recent discussions have focused on the capacity for democratic political institutions to address complex technical and scientific issues. These discussions have a post-positivist starting point, emphasising the contested, varied and dispersed nature of technical-scientific knowledge and expertise. Yet, as this article explores with particular reference to the work of Hayek, the sources of tension between democracy, complexity and expertise involve complex economic as well as technical-scientific dimensions. Starting from a similarly ‘post-positivist’ view of economic knowledge, Hayek famously concludes that over-reliance upon political expertise carries the danger of authoritarianism. He looks to the market as the most suitable institutional process for addressing complex economic choices, reflecting the various goals of individuals across society. As more recent writers have shown, this radically pro-market conclusion overlooks the profound social and environmental implications of market failure. Yet it is argued here that we can draw from the Hayekian understanding of complexity and its implications to enrich our understanding of how non-market, democratic institutions might handle those dimensions of complexity that cannot be adequately addressed through markets alone. Hence Hayekian insights can serve as an aid to re-conceptualising the concept of expertise as performing a potentially enabling role on behalf of political democracy.

Item Type:Article
Research Community:University of Westminster > Social Sciences, Humanities and Languages, School of
ID Code:7774
Deposited On:17 Mar 2010 13:10
Last Modified:21 Sep 2010 12:04

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