Expertise plays an essential role today and has done so in French political decision-making for more than half a century, whether in the fields of health, employment, transport or elsewhere. Yet this is highly contested by a growing section of public opinion, as we have been able to see in France in connection with subjects like vaccination or, more recently, during the debates that stoked the gilets jaunes crisis, attesting to a real distrust toward the elites in charge of public policy. How did we reach this point and what might that mistrust lead to if it lasts or worsens?
Daniel Agacinski, who, in his role with France Stratégie, has made a range of contributions to present thinking on the French attitude to experts, outlines the development of this relation to expertise, and also the sociological and historical forces driving it. He calls for a reshaping of the way experts operate, to bring that into line with democracy: we have to “take on board the public lack of trust” and see our way, in response to it, to expanding the circle of experts by bringing in (even non-expert) citizens to make public action as democratic as it can be.