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Abstract

Expert knowledge is an essential component of modern society. It is also a potentially difficult topic for sociology because of the importance sociology attaches to culture and context. The sociology of science has emphasised the continuity between scientific expertise and more traditional forms of knowledge. Whilst this suggests an increasing ‘democratisation of expertise’ is desirable, it also risks erasing the idea of expertise itself. This might be particularly detrimental for sociology as it restricts the role of sociological inquiry to examining how expert status is attributed rather than understanding what expertise is. This paper describes these developments and contrasts them with other approaches in which expertise appears less important. It concludes by setting out a new approach to expertise that respects the role of culture in generating knowledge but, by stressing the importance of socialisation and experience, argues for a more nuanced conception of expertise as both real and unequally distributed.