“It is true that the Expert is growing more common in this society, to the point of becoming its generalized figure, distended between the exigency of a growing specialization and that of a communication that has become all the more necessary. He blots out (and in a certain way replaces) the Philosopher, formerly the specialist of the universal. But his success is not so terribly spectacular. In him, the productivist law that requires a specific assignment (the condition of efficiency) and the social law that requires circulation (the form of exchange) enter into contradiction. To be sure, a specialist is more and more often driven to also be an Expert, that is, an interpreter and translator of his competence for other fields. That is obvious even within the laboratories themselves: as soon as decisions regarding objectives, promotions, or financing are to be made, the Experts intervene “in the name of “- but outside of-their particular experience. How do they succeed in moving from their technique – a language they have mastered and which regulates their discourse – to the more common language of another situation? They do it through a curious operation which “converts” competence into authority. Competence is exchanged for authority. Ultimately, the more authority the Expert has, the less competence he has, up to the point where his fund of competence is exhausted, like the energy necessary to put a mobile into movement. During the process of conversion, he is not without some competence (he either has to have some or make people think he has), but he abandons the competence he possesses as his authority is extended further and further, drawn out of its orbit by social demands and/or political responsibilities. That is the (general?) paradox of authority : a knowledge is ascribed to it and this knowledge is precisely what it lacks where it is exercised . Authority is indissociable from an “abuse of knowledge and in this fact we ought perhaps to recognize the effect of the social law that divests the individual of his competence in order to establish (or re-establish) the capital of a collective competence, that is, of a common verisimilitude.
Since he cannot limit himself to talking about what he knows, the Expert pronounces on the basis of the place that his specialty has won for him. In that way he inscribes himself and is inscribed in a common order where specialization, as the rule and hierarchically ordering practice of the productivist economy, has the value of initiation. Because he has successfully submitted himself to this initiatory practice, he can, on questions foreign to his technical competence but not to the power he has acquired through it, pronounce with authority a discourse which is no longer a function of knowledge, but rather a function of the socioeconomic order. He speaks as an ordinary man, who can receive authority in exchange for knowledge just as one receives a paycheck in exchange for work. He inscribes himself in the common language of practices, where an overproduction of authority leads to the devaluation of authority, since one always gets more in exchange for an equal or inferior amount of competence. But when he continues to believe, or make others believe, that he is acting as a scientist, he confuses social place with technical discourse. He takes one for the other: it is a simple case of mistaken identity. He misunderstands the order which he represents. He no longer knows what he is saying. A few individuals, after having long considered themselves experts speaking a scientific language, have finally awoken from their slumbers and suddenly realized that for the last few moments they have been walking on air, like Felix the Cat in the old cartoons, far from the scientific ground. Though legitimized by scientific knowledge, their discourse is seen to have been no more than the ordinary language of tactical games between economic powers and symbolic authorities.”
Michel de Certeau (Jesuit, sociologist, philosopher, contemplative)
The Practice of Everyday Life (University of California Press: Berkeley. 1984, pp.32-33)