Department of Political Science

Advice Not Safely Ignored: Professional Authority and the Strength of Legitimate Complexity

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DOI

It is widely debated how ordinary citizens understand and use different types of knowledge and whether the authority of professional expertise is challenged by the spread of information. These debates underline that we know too little about how professional expertise is understood from the citizens’ point of view and how citizens decide whether or not to accept various types of expertise as authoritative. This article investigates professional authority understood as lay citizens’ willingness to follow certain types of professional advice. We argue that variation in professional authority can be explained by citizens’ evaluations of professional expertise and whether they perceive the tasks and problems addressed by professionals as having ‘legitimate complexity’. The analysis uses survey data from two countries, including vignettes on following advice in concrete everyday situations. We find legitimate complexity to be a strong predictor of professional authority although social status also plays a role.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSociology
Volume55
Issue5
Pages (from-to)1015-1034
Number of pages20
ISSN0038-0385
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021

    Research areas

  • authority, doctors, legitimate complexity, professional authority, professions, quantitative methods, survey data, teachers, vignettes

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