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Abstract

How do we know things? The question of epistemology – which drives both the sociology and philosophy of science – is also a crucial question for political sociology. Knowledge is essential to even the most basic and foundational of political processes and institutions. In 2000, for example, the transition of power in the US presidential election hung for 36 days on uncertainty over a seemingly simple question of fact: who won the most votes in Florida? A few years later, disputed factual claims about Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction unraveled, calling into question key justifications of the US decision to invade Iraq in 2003 and significantly weakening perceived US legitimacy. Yet, surprisingly, sociologists and political scientists know relatively little about how knowledge gets made in political communities, nor how the making of knowledge is tied to other key aspects of political life, such as identity, authority, legitimacy, and accountability.