The DFG Research Training Group 1507 “Expert Cultures from the Twelfth to the Eighteenth Centuries”

The DFG Research Training Group 1507 “Expert Cultures from the Twelfth to the Eighteenth Centuries” explores the symbolic forms und agents of expert cultures which have been shaping occidental societies for centuries. It would be a mistake to believe that the knowledge available to societies has started to become increasingly differentiated (into different spheres of knowledge) only since the dawn of modernity. In fact this process was initiated in the 12th century. It was accompanied by the establishment of the “expert” – a social type who symbolically represents different spheres of knowledge while simultaneously defining them.

The Research Training Group proceeds from a basic assumption, drawn from the sociology of knowledge. According to this knowledge assumes its status as collective conviction through a process of socially based negotiation. Knowledge is best to be conceived of as either practical or theoretical as well as either implicit or explicit. However, it is worth noting that the passage between the categories mentioned might be fluent. The Research Training Group is aware of the different ways through which knowledge may be mediated (not only in written) sources: Accordingly, sources may contain sediments of knowledge as well as explicate and reflect it.

The expert assumes the social role of an agent of knowledge. His position results on the one hand from special knowledge being assigned to the expert by others. On the other hand, it is based on the expert’s own proclamation to possess such knowledge. However, the knowledge expert’s possess can only ever be defined in relation to a given situation. Hence, his exceptional status is the result of social negotiation with his environment. The role of the expert may be marked by the use of exclusive disciplinary jargon and the development of a specific habitus. Of primary interest to the Research Training Group are those symbolic forms by means of which social protagonists stage themselves as experts and define their relationship to society.

Expert Cultures
The term expert cultures denotes cultures where experts play a central role as agents of knowledge for the configuration of this culture. They are responsible for the differentiation, spread, and organisation of bodies of knowledge and, thereby, enable new patterns of action within a given society’s cultual repertoire. The socially exceptional position of experts is established via communication. Once this exceptional status has reached a certain degree of institutionalization, expert milieus may arise. These are defined by idiosyncratic procedural methods, practices, and value systems.