The Powerful, the Powerless, and the Experts: Knowledge Struggles in an Information Age
I have a friend, an activist, worker, and former coal miner who knows and loves the Appalachian mountains as well as anyone in my acquaintance. Over the last two decades, he has become his own self-taught "expert" on the ravages that strip-mining have gouged into the countryside. A "mountain man," he has spent hours walking the hills, observing the destruction of wildlife, streams, and natural soil cover. Though he does not have a college education, he has studied the laws and scientific literature on mining, and the economics and history of mining, so that he can educate others and struggle against the technology which has taken jobs, destroyed farms, and endangered his way of life. His knowledge derives from vast experience and self-education, though it lacks the credentials that a degree or a government office might bring.
One day, this friend asked the appropriate government inspector to file a complaint against what appeared to be a clear violation of the law. Though weak and gutted by special interests, the law dearly says that muck and debris from strip mines shall not be deposited directly into streams. My friend had discovered a major slide of silt running from a mine into a nearby stream on the mountain above his home, endangering the aquatic life and increasing the likelihood of flooding.
The government inspector possessed a knowledge very different from that of my friend. A recent product of a state university, he was now a certified geologist. A junior post in a state regulatory agency helped to ordain his knowledge as "official." His knowledge of the countryside was not personal and firsthand, but acquired through maps and textbooks based, one supposes, on science. Unlike my friend, his was the knowledge of expertise, not of experience.