Sundstrom 2000 Epistemic Communities

Sundstrom 2000 Epistemic Communities - 1 A Brief...

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1 A Brief Introduction: What is an Epistemic Community? (Mikael Sundström, 2000) The Short version Epistemic Communities is a way of trying to make sense of the fact that hard-to-grasp decisions may move actual, although not necessarily formal, power from elected representatives (or dictators for that matter) to elites acquainted with the subject in a trans- national setting. Let us consider the following figure:
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2 What we have is a tricky, probably trans-national, issue-area, a number of formal actors and a group of experts. In many cases the formal actors (political representatives, ministers etc.) get together to discuss their particular problems with counterparts from other nations and/or organisations (normally, theorists only discuss national representatives with formal authority). If the subject is obscure and difficult to grasp, they will find it hard or impossible to solve problems by themselves. Each actor will therefore consult with one or more national experts with intimate understanding of the complex issues involved. A Swedish minister may consult with experts from academia, industry or, not uncommonly, with people directly employed by the government to provide that expertise and service. Thus far, it would seem, the autonomy on the part of the formal actor is merely circumscribed to the extent that he/she listens to his/her advisor. The epistemic community factors in when we realise that these issue-centric experts meet their counterparts from other nations/organisations. They may meet at conventions or even be members of some international organisation focusing on a particular issue. Because the experts share the language and the understanding pertinent to the issue-area, they may soon begin to form stronger ties with their international colleagues. Eventually they may begin to discuss possible solutions to given problems among themselves. At that point they are at the point of forming an epistemic community proper, (epistemic community literally translates as knowledge-society). In the figure above, such a community has already been formed (it should be remembered that it is not necessary to have any formal meeting arrangements for an epistemic community to be present). The community will devise their own solutions to problems that their respective superiors are formally supposed to solve. When the actor asks his/her experts how to go about solving a particular issue, the community solution will be suggested. When the actors get together to discuss the issue at hand, they will, lo and behold!, find that they share similar ideas , because the “independent” experts have all offered the similar advice. This seeming harmony among the actors will probably mean that the solution on the table will be implemented: why complicating things when everyone agrees? The actors may not realise it, but their actual power to affect things have now been reduced to the point of nonexistence.
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3 A Slightly Longer Version and Technical Criteria. The question what an epistemic community is touches the very fabric of this paper. Before
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This note was uploaded on 02/06/2012 for the course POL 223 taught by Professor Aldrich during the Fall '10 term at Purdue University-West Lafayette.

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Sundstrom 2000 Epistemic Communities - 1 A Brief...

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