Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 April 2012
The concept of epistemic communities – professional networks with authoritative and policy-relevant expertise – is well-known thanks to a 1992 special issue of International Organization. Over the past twenty years, the idea has gained some traction in International Relations scholarship, but has not evolved much beyond its original conceptualisation. Much of the research on epistemic communities has been limited to single case studies in articles, rather than broader comparative works, and has focused narrowly on groups of scientists. As a result, it is often assumed, erroneously, that epistemic communities are only comprised of scientists, and that the utility of the concept for understanding International Relations is quite narrow. Consequently, an otherwise promising approach to transnational networks has become somewhat marginalised over the years. This article revisits the concept of epistemic communities twenty years later and proposes specific innovations to the framework. In an increasingly globalising world, transnational actors are becoming progressively more numerous and influential. Epistemic communities are certainly at the forefront of these trends, and a better understanding of how they form and operate can give us a clear demonstration of how knowledge translates into power.
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68 There is a literature that delves into the various philosophical underpinnings of uncertainty, which could be helpful in making distinctions about the relationship between epistemic communities and different types of uncertainty. However, I argue that uncertainty is not as strong of a causal force for epistemic community influence as has been assumed.
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98 Haas makes a similar point, but emphasises the primacy of scientific knowledge because he argues that scientific method, peer review, and publication gives true scientists more social prestige than other knowledge-based experts. I would disagree with this more narrow interpretation of knowledge because there is nothing that is inherently special about ‘scientific’ knowledge, and regular people, including politicians, cannot always differentiate between real scientists and people claiming to be scientists.
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100 Establishing the motives of transnational network members can be done through careful and extensive interviews of those involved and those who interact with them regularly. They can also be deduced from the founding documents of a network or the phrasing in other kinds of public statements.
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