Doctoral Dissertation

24.11.2018 M.Soc.Sc. Taina Meriluoto (Facul­ty of Hu­ma­ni­ties and Social Sciences, Political Science)


24.11.2018 12:00 — 15:00

Location: Seminaarinmaki , S212
M.Soc.Sc. Taina Meriluoto defends her doctoral dissertation in Political Science: "Making experts-by-experience – Governmental ethnography of participatory initiatives in Finnish social welfare organisations".

Opponent Professor Helen Sullivan (Australian National University) and Custos Senior Lecturer Pertti Lappalainen (University of Jyväskylä). The doctoral dissertation is held in English.

Abstract This dissertation analyses expertise-by-experience in Finnish social welfare organisations as part of the participatory practices presented as new democracy. It employs a governmental ethnographic method to investigate how a person with difficult experiences is made into ‘an expert of one’s own life’ and how the subjectivity thus created is connected to different possibilities and rationales of participation.

It asks: 1. What characterises the subjectivities created in the initiatives? 2. How (through which practices) are the participants constructed as experts? In this summary article the democratic quality of expert-making practices is interpreted through a critical democratic lens by inquiring: 3. How do the practices identified sustain or, conversely, undermine democracy?

Conceptually, the research builds on a Foucauldian vocabulary by connecting processes of subjectivation with knowledge-claims as undergirding practices of governing. The data consist of ethnographic material produced in a civil society organisation, of themed interviews with experts-by-experience and practitioners from seven projects in Finnish social welfare organisations and of policy-documents delineating the concept and its related practices.

The research argues that the initiatives studied primarily seek to construct collaborative and consensus-seeking participants. This is achieved by defining ‘expertise’ as the ability to present neutral and objective knowledge over specific issues despite one’s personal experiences. Participation is constructed as a distinctly a-political activity based on objectified knowledge.

Collective advocacy, emotions and opinionated inputs are deemed unfitting. This configuration of expertise as a pre-requirement for the right to participate establishes epistemic thresholds for participation, making it possible to choose participants according to the projects’ predefined objectives. This is a cause for concern for democracy.

Nonetheless, the research also suggests that the emphasis on expertise also renders the concept available for contestations and critique. The participants’ and practitioners’ attempts to destabilise the technocratic expert-construction illuminate the existing boundaries of expertise and serve to politicise the boundaries of inclusion in participatory governance.

Still, the acts of resistance do not contest participatory governance’s underlying premise of joint knowledge production, which reaffirms that the value of participation lies in its epistemic contributions to decision-making. Keywords: expertise-by-experience, participatory governance, governmentality, ethnography, subjectivity, service user involvement, democracy, social welfare