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Sociology Compass 2/6 (2008): 18961919, 10.1111/j.1751-9020.2008.00175.

Civic Epistemologies: Constituting Knowledge

and Order in Political Communities
Clark A. Miller*
Arizona State University


How do we know things? The question of epistemology which drives both the
sociology and philosophy of science is also a crucial question for political
sociology. Knowledge is essential to even the most basic and foundational of
political processes and institutions. In 2000, for example, the transition of power
in the US presidential election hung for 36 days on uncertainty over a seemingly
simple question of fact: who won the most votes in Florida? A few years later,
disputed factual claims about Iraqs possession of weapons of mass destruction
unraveled, calling into question key justifications of the US decision to invade
Iraq in 2003 and significantly weakening perceived US legitimacy. Yet, surprisingly,
sociologists and political scientists know relatively little about how knowledge
gets made in political communities, nor how the making of knowledge is tied
to other key aspects of political life, such as identity, authority, legitimacy,
and accountability.

In this essay, I review the emerging literature on civic epistemologies (Miller

2004b, 2005a; Jasanoff 2004b, 2005), arguing that this concept offers a
valuable starting point for inquiry into the construction and constitution
of knowledge in political life. The concept of civic epistemology refers
explicitly to the social and institutional practices by which political
communities construct, review, validate, and deliberate politically relevant
knowledge. Civic epistemologies include the styles of reasoning, modes
of argumentation, standards of evidence, and norms of expertise that
characterize public deliberation and political institutions. The concept
refers, in this sense, both to formal knowledge systems, such as the census,
by which states produce and use factual claims regarding society, the
economy, or the environment in social and policy decision making, as
well as to more informal processes of knowledge making by which states
and their citizens arrive at collective settlements regarding the epistemic
foundations of public life.
I begin this essay with a brief discussion in part one of what I see as the
core intellectual foundations underlying the concept of civic epistemologies.
I then turn in parts two and three to applications of the concept of civic
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Civic epistemologies: knowledge and order


epistemologies that illustrate its theoretical and pragmatic value. Part two
applies the concept of civic epistemologies in several major areas of political
analysis, including political conflict and its resolution, political authority
and legitimacy, and the constitution and regulation of novel political entities.
Part three, in turn, applies the concept of civic epistemologies to two
crucial problems in modern politics: globalization and sustainability.
Part One: Civic epistemologies: Conceptual foundations
The conceptual foundations of civic epistemologies are grounded in a
particular view of democracy, in which contests over policy-relevant ideas
and facts are an essential element of democratic politics. Theories of
deliberative democracy emphasize the centrality and importance of epistemic
debates and factual knowledge to the practices of legitimacy, accountability,
transparency, and efficacy in democratic governance. Largely missing from
these literatures, however, is a nuanced understanding of the epistemic
contests (Epstein 1996) that populate public life, as well as the complex
array of social and institutional processes within which these contests take
place and policy-relevant facts and ideas are formed, validated, critiqued,
disseminated, and discarded.
Literature in the tradition of civic epistemologies has provided an extensive
and growing treatment of knowledge making and epistemic debate within
what John Stuart Mill described as a marketplace of ideas and Jurgen
Habermas, the public sphere. This space comprises a rich and complex
array of dynamic, interacting spaces within which knowledge is made and
deliberated: administrative and regulatory hearings and associated scientific
advisory processes (Brickman et al. 1985; Jasanoff 1986, 1990, 2005; Guston
2000; Hilgartner 2000; Porter 1995; Wynne 1982); citizen and activist
knowledges (Epstein 1996; Ellis and Waterton 2004; Iles 2004; Jasanoff
2004b; Martello 2004; Nelkin 1984; Peterson 1984; Wynne 1995); legislative
hearings, public inquiries, and legislative research (Bimber 1996; Gieryn
and Figert 1990; Lynch et al. 1996); legal proceedings (Cole 2001; Jasanoff
1995b); electoral systems (Miller 2001b, 2004b); and international politics
(Litfin 1994; Miller and Edwards 2001; Miller 2007).
Research on civic epistemologies offers one tool for trying to understand
this rich array of social and institutional spaces for debates about policy ideas
within democratic societies. In particular, the concept of civic epistemology
seeks to capture the public knowledge ways or ways of knowing that operate
within and across this multiplicity of spaces. Studies of civic epistemologies
depart radically from the static notions of the public understanding of
science, which seek merely to capture the factual content of public
knowledge (Jasanoff 2005). Instead, building on the intellectual traditions
of the sociology of scientific knowledge and science and technology studies,
research on civic epistemologies inquires into how knowledge is dynamically
constructed and applied in the search for meaning and design and
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implementation of policy in modern societies. In doing so, it adopts

several basic intellectual perspectives.
First, knowledge is comprised not of simple statements of truth or fact
but rather of complex judgments regarding how to identify multiple forms
of evidence, assess their credibility and meaning, and integrate them together,
based on appropriate evidentiary standards and weighting (Shapin 1994,
1996; Jasanoff 1995b). Tacit skills and values often shape these judgments
(Collins 1974), as do distinct problem framings (Collins and Pinch 1982;
Miller 2000) and styles of reasoning (Hacking 2002).
Second, these complex judgments involved in knowledge making are
products of dynamic social processes in which competing knowledge
claims are articulated, deliberated, negotiated, discarded, and valorized.
The structure and dynamics of these social processes determine, in turn, whose
knowledge claims matter and how claims are constructed, evaluated, contested, and sanctioned as knowledge. Understanding knowledge, therefore,
requires understanding knowledge-in-the-making (Epstein 1996; Knorr
Cetina 1999).
Third, knowledge both shapes and is shaped by social processes.
Knowledge is thus neither an independent, autonomous variable capable
of explaining social decisions or outcomes nor simply an epiphenomenon
of deeper social and political processes. Instead, knowledge and social
order are co-produced through practices that simultaneously give rise to
specific epistemic frameworks as well as social and political arrangements
that produce and apply those understandings (Jasanoff 2004b; Shapin and
Schaffer 1985). Together, I define this combination of epistemic frameworks
and their associated social arrangements for knowledge production and
application as knowledge-orders.
The concept of knowledge-orders can be differentiated along a spectrum
that ranges on one end, from more highly specialized and tightly organized
knowledge systems for example, a computational model that is used by a
single agency to make permitting decisions to much broader constellations of multiple, heterogeneous knowledge systems. The concept of civic
epistemologies has been developed primarily at this broader end of the
spectrum and is applied to help understand the broader patterns of coupled
social and epistemic arrangements that can emerge and come to characterize
public life in political communities. Civic epistemologies are, thus, ways
of knowing and reasoning about policy problems intertwined with ways
of organizing political order. These knowledge orders are reasonably stable,
in that they persist over relatively long periods of time, often embedded
in institutionalized epistemic, social, and political practices. But, they are
also dynamic: open to change through novel processes of co-production
that link epistemic, social, and political contestation and innovation. This
dynamism may mean, over short periods of time, that epistemic and social
processes may diverge, until divergence becomes sufficiently recognized
and significant to force reintegration. Such reintegration may happen through
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peaceful processes of change or violent conflict and may take place

through changes in epistemic frameworks, social arrangements, or both.
Democratic polities, and especially pluralist democracies, are almost
inevitably characterized by a diversity of knowledge systems operating
within broader civic epistemologies. In the United States, for example, a
diversity of distinct knowledge systems characterize distinct institutional
contexts. The US legal system operates under strict rules of evidence,
interpreted by judges in the administration of specific cases, and established
by a combination of legislation and legal precedent (Jasanoff 1995b). Many
administrative agencies in the US federal government produce extensive
statistical knowledge relevant to their missions: agriculture, demographics,
labor, economics, inflation, crime, etc. (see, e.g., Bandhauer et al. 2005;
Miller 2005b; Porter 1995). These statistics are prepared in accordance with
professional standards in relevant fields, administrative decisions regarding
the need and structure of data collected, and a wide range of federal
legislation regarding data quality, government performance, administrative
procedures, and other relevant facets. Many US regulatory decisions must
provide statements in the public record that provide a scientific justification
for the decision in question ( Jasanoff 1990). These statements depend on
research conducted by regulatory agencies as well as university, industry,
and non-governmental organization scientists, syntheses of that research
produced in consultation with legislatively mandated scientific advisory
committees, as well as the judgments of agency scientists, legal staff, and
regulatory officials.
While these knowledge systems are distinct, they also interact, through
dynamic political processes. Regulatory decisions based on agency statistics
may be challenged in court. Administrative and regulatory knowledges
may stimulate legislation, while legislative acts like the Federal Advisory
Committee Act and Data Quality Act impact the production of administrative, regulatory, and legal knowledges. When dynamic interactions are
frequent and robust, the upshot can be deeper patterns of knowledge
making that stretch across multiple knowledge-orders. In the case of
the United States, for example, the predominance of quantification and
statistical forms of knowledge can be seen across broad aspects of
administrative, regulatory, and legal knowledge-orders ( Jasanoff 1991;
Porter 1995).
The concept of civic epistemologies applies most aptly at this broader
level of political organization, with regard to collections of more or less
closely intertwined knowledge systems. I do not mean to suggest here that
individual knowledge systems do not, themselves, also contain within
them heterogeneous elements. Rather, my argument is that the concept of
civic epistemologies is particularly oriented toward the analysis of contexts
in which multiple, highly diverse approaches to knowing and ordering
exist in dynamic tension and interaction with one another in sufficient
depth that some degree of regularities and patterns begin to emerge.
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Knowledge-making patterns within such collections are necessarily more

complex than within distinct knowledge-orders, and it is necessary to
adopt sophisticated, inductive methods to study them. One approach
that has been highly successfully used to study civic epistemologies is
the comparative approach ( Jasanoff 1995a, 2005). Research on civic
epistemologies has found that evidentiary standards, norms of expertise,
processes of scientific review and forms of advisory committees, framings
of policy problems, styles of policy reasoning and many other aspects of
the linkage between knowledge and political authority vary systematically
across political cultures (Bandhauer et al. 2005; Brickman et al. 1985;
Daemmrich 2004; Daemmrich and Krucken 2000; Jasanoff 1986, 1991,
1993, 1995a; Parthasarathy 2004, 2007; Rayner 1991).
These variations are a consequence of distinct civic epistemologies
distinct constellations of knowledge and order that have evolved in distinct
societal contexts a point made also by historical sociological research.
Yaron Ezrahi observed, the socio-cultural repertoire of any political world
the range of norms, institutions, or behaviors upon which it can draw
is determined in each case by the available cultural materials, that is, socially
established traditions, beliefs, and practices (Ezrahi 1990). Building on such
distinct traditions, beliefs, and practices, states began in the late 19th and early
20th centuries to respond to a range of novel policy problems, constructing
the beginnings of the administrative, welfare state. Both the state and the
university a key non-state institution involved in both knowledge production
and the training of professionals who would produce and use knowledge
in administrative agencies changed radically, taking new forms that were
deeply intertwined by the mid-20th century (Wittrock and Wagner 1996).
Yet, the precise form of these institutions and their relationships varied,
giving rise, across both Europe and North America, to knowledge-based
states, but states with quite distinct forms of coupled epistemological
and political order (Rueschemeyer and Skocpol 1996).
Part Two: Knowledge in politics
The notion that humans inhabit knowledge societies and knowledge economies
has become commonplace, marking public recognition of the central role
of science and technology in the organization of human affairs at the end
of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. While no comparable
designation has emerged for knowledge polities, it is nonetheless not surprising
that social theorists have also begun to highlight and interrogate the role
of knowledge and science in the constitution of contemporary forms of
political order. The result has been an important shift in our understanding
of the place of knowledge in the shaping of politics in contemporary
societies, including imagination, identity, and citizenship; legitimacy,
authority, and accountability; conflict; and regulation (Miller 2004a, 2007;
Ezrahi 1990, 2004; Jasanoff 2004b, 2005; Scott 1998).
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Imagination, identity, and citizenship

If knowledge is understood, at its foundation, as the codification of belief
and the establishment of claims to truth and objectivity, then it can hardly
be surprising that knowledge plays a crucial role in the formation of
political imagination and identity. Nowhere has this subject been more
innovatively explored than in Benedict Andersons Imagined Communities
(1991). Taking a novel approach to the study of political ideology, Anderson
observed that it is not just ideas but the systematic production and reception
of particular forms of ideas that contributed from the 17th through the 19th
century to new forms of political identity that took the shape of nationalism.
To understand the rise of nationalism, Anderson argued, demanded more
than just a history of ideas; it required understanding the production,
dissemination, and reception of those ideas among mass publics. For this,
it was essential to understand the array of institutions that produced relevant
ideas newspapers, museums, censuses and the day-to-day reception of
those ideas by citizens in terms of their own political identity.
Although Anderson does not attend closely to the matter, it is interesting
to note that the crucial ideas in his account take the form of claims to
factual knowledges: daily news stories, archaeological sciences, demographic
statistics, and geographic maps. Indeed, Anderson goes to considerable
lengths to demonstrate that these ideas are not objective factual claims,
showing how the political ontology created by each is shaped by a range
of political ideologies. Yet, the acceptance of these ideas by citizens as
factual descriptions forms an essential component of their influence on
political imaginaries. It is crucial that the narrative fiction of newspaper
stories that world events can be understood as parallel histories of
distinct nations be understood not as narrative fiction but as political
reality if it is to shape citizens identity as belonging to one and not others
of these nations.
If Anderson is concerned primarily with how citizens imagine their
identities in relation to the institutional production of factual knowledge
in the public sphere, Sheila Jasanoff and her colleagues have taken a
different approach, focusing on what Jasanoff terms epistemic citizenship: the
roles and rights of citizens vis--vis the production of public knowledge
( Jasanoff 2004a). Concerned primarily with citizens as knowledge holders,
these authors have been concerned to demonstrate that citizens in modern
societies both produce and meaningfully contribute knowledges to public
deliberation and policy reasoning. Where other political theories see citizens as often uninformed recipients of state and media-generated messages, at best interpreting them in terms of preformed opinions, this work
has collectively demonstrated the much more dynamic and constitutive
role played by citizens in shaping the public sphere.
Work in this tradition has focused on lay communities of expertise, for
example, in the creation of knowledge about biological diversity (Ellis and
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Waterton 2004) and farming (Wynne 1995), indigenous knowledges in

international negotiations (Martello 2001, 2004), and the knowledges of
activist groups and non-governmental organizations (Iles 2004; Krimski
and Plough 1988; Miller 2003a). In the most extensively researched case
to date, Stephen Epstein has shown how AIDS patients and AIDS activists
worked together to successfully critique and undermine the standard
epistemological practices of drug testing in the 1990s (Epstein 1996).
Opposing testing practices that left many patients without access to drug
trials, the AIDS community conducted street protests at scientific meetings
and at the same time pursued its own community-based trials on the basis
of smuggled drugs. This dual strategy including, later, close engagement
with biostatisticians ultimately forced scientists to revise the experimental
practices, evidentiary standards, and epistemological framework used in
US drug regulation.
Political conflict and its resolution
The epistemic politics present in the case of AIDS research is illustrative
of the fundamental role of knowledge in political conflict, especially in
pluralist societies. In such conflicts, it can often seem that each side in the
dispute will mobilize its own claims to knowledge, including both competing interpretations of available evidence and the pursuit of independent
research projects aimed at supporting particular political positions (Nelkin
1984). Careful analysis suggests slightly more complex dynamics, however.
Epistemic conflict and the mobilization of counter claims regarding
knowledge need not necessarily prevent the co-production of new
epistemic agreements and social arrangements that lead to conflict resolution
(Jasanoff 1997). Civic epistemology research can highlight how the dynamics
of co-production operate in cases of political conflict over knowledge.
Consider, for example, the case of elections. Political conflict remains
one of the most complex and intransigent sources of violence in many
contemporary societies. One of the hallmarks of successful transitions to
democracy, therefore, is the ability to eliminate violent conflict associated
with elections and the transition of power and leadership in society. This
is rightly recognized as a fundamentally political problem, involving
transitions to new norms and practices of governance, the creation of
appropriate balances of power and minority rights, and the creation of trusted
and trustworthy governance institutions. However, studies of electoral
knowledge systems have also illuminated that, within well functioning
electoral processes, knowledge claims play a foundational role in securing the
legitimacy of electoral outcomes and knowledge conflicts can significantly
undermine that legitimacy (Lynch 2001a; Miller 2001a, 2004b).
For 36 days in November and December 2000, for example, the peaceful
transition of power in the United States was called into question over a
seemingly simple question of fact: which Presidential candidate won the
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most votes in the state of Florida. Vote tallies, of course, are inevitably a
product of political calculus. The electoral practices that generate the casting
of votes are deeply influenced by practices of candidate selection ( Jasanof
2001a); a wide range of political advertising, sloganeering, mobilization,
and manipulation of messages, people, voter registration, and voting day
activities (Bowker and Star 2001); efforts to magnify or lessen the appearance
of uncertainty (Hilgartner 2001); rules, procedures, and practices of constructing, handling, validating, and contesting electoral tallies (Lynch
2001b); and media practices for displaying the spectacle of electoral contests
and electoral winners (Dennis 2001). In this case, as in all elections,
irregularities occurred in election practice. Coupled to a close election in
Florida, these irregularities contributed to the emergence of widespread
political and legal conflict over the electoral result.
If electoral outcomes are to authorize the electoral winner to hold the
reigns of power, however, partisan and administrative politics must appear
invisible and irrelevant to the final outcome, allowing the final electoral
selection to be based on apparent objective fact regarding who won (Carson
2001). In normal elections, this is accomplished through rituals of closure,
such as televised pronouncements of winners, acceptance and concession
speeches, and so forth. In disputed cases, by contrast, the US electoral
system allows for recounts but then quickly shifts disputes out of the
political arena and into the legal system, where claims can be adjudicated
in a more controlled and less immediately partisan manner (although the
claim of non-partisanship of the courts was, itself, strained close to breaking
in this case), in an effort to reduce or avoid political conflict (see Miller
2004b, for a much more detailed account of efforts to co-produce electoral
closure in this case). As the failure of Bush v. Gore to close debate in this
case illustrates, however, when exercises of co-production fail, and electoral
tallies come to appear to rest on little more than judicial judgment or ad
hoc political decisions, the result can give rise to significant skepticism
regarding the legitimacy of the election. Only by understanding electoral
processes in terms of civic epistemologies that is as complex interactions
among diverse knowledge systems can we fully explain how successful
democracies achieve legitimate electoral outcomes and thus hope to construct
and/or reform such systems (Miller 2004b).
Research on civic epistemologies can also open up inquiry with regard
to other aspects of political conflict. Comparative research illustrates,
for example, that distinct political cultures give rise to distinct forms of
coupled epistemic and political conflict (Brickman et al. 1985). Political conflict
does not merely happen; rather, its form and frequency are determined
by the form and organization of knowledge-orders across a society. While
science is often mobilized by competing parties in political disputes in the
United States, for example, this occurs much less frequently in Europe.
This has been constantly apparent in the debate about climate change,
where European countries have been subjected to far fewer debates than
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the United States over the scientific basis of climate change. Indeed, in
Germany, when industry groups sought to reject the reality of climate
change, they were forced to import US critics of climate science, as no
German scientist would become involved. It is interesting to note that
public conflicts over the tallying of votes also do not occur nearly so
readily in Europe as in the United States. In both electoral and regulatory
politics, European knowledge-orders are structured in distinct ways that
do not tend to give rise to epistemic debates with the frequency or
regularity of comparable knowledge-orders in the United States.
Political legitimacy and authority
Mary Douglas and Michel Foucault both argued, from very different
perspectives, that social and political authority is deeply bound up with
knowledge systems (Douglas 1966; Douglas and Wildavsky 1983; Foucault
1973). For Foucault, the core question was how the state exercised power
and authority in society, and its control over the production and certification
of knowledge appeared crucial to answering that question. For Douglas,
the question was subtly different: how to explain distinct forms of social
organization and authority? In her theory, control over knowledge was
crucial to social and political authority, but distinct forms of knowledge
supported distinct forms of social authority. Both Foucault and Douglas
left open a crucial question, however. Could epistemic authority and its
associated social or political authority be constituted democratically (or
was such authority inevitably illegitimate)?
Yaron Ezrahi has explored, perhaps more than any other individual, the
centrality of science and of knowledge making more generally to the
production of democratic political authority and legitimacy (Ezrahi 1990,
2004). Just as the construction of objective electoral facts, described above,
is essential to the construction of legitimate electoral outcomes that authorize
the winners to assume power, so, too, Ezrahi has demonstrated that knowledge
is a crucial element of legitimacy and authority more broadly in democratic
governance. For Ezrahi, the crucial question is how attentive democratic
publics, through deliberative practices, hold the exercise of power accountable
in between elections, and science plays a crucial role in the answer.
Democracies are inevitably hostage to the discretion of elected or
appointed officials. In response, democratic polities have sought means to
reduce this discretion. One approach to this problem has been to insist that
the exercise of power be accompanied by its justification. The justification
of power is largely meaningless without independent standards against
which to measure its validity, however, and democratic polities have often
turned to science to fill this role. Scientific expertise thus became, during
the Progressive politics of the early 20th century in the United States, a tool
for justifying that conservation policies pursued by the US government
would provide the greatest good for the greatest number of people (Hays
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1959). Later, during the New Deal, the US Congress began to insist on
quantitative measures of cost-benefit analysis from administrative agencies
using what Theodore Porter has described as a form of mechanical objectivity
to ensure that agency decisions were neither ad hoc and arbitrary nor,
worse, partisan choices (Porter 1995). By the 1960s and 1970s, nearly all
regulatory decisions in the United States would be required by law to
provide scientific or expert justifications for their actions, with many such
laws dictating not only the fact but the form of justification and potentially
also the kinds of knowledge required, forms of review and audit, etc.
( Jasanoff 1990).
Theories of deliberative democracy have picked up this argument that
knowledge forms an essential component of the exercise of legitimate
democratic authority.
A part of exercising legitimate democratic authority is the public act of
justification to those over whom authoritative decisions are binding. In making
demands on citizens, legislative bodies, administrative agencies, and appointed
experts must explain their reasons and demonstrate that their demands can
reasonably be expected to serve the common interests of free and equal citizens.
(King 2003, 24)

But this formulation raises sociological questions that have not yet been
adequately addressed by political theorists. What counts as adequate explanation or demonstration for the purposes of establishing the legitimacy of
authority and the exercise of power in democratic societies? In legal
proceedings, rules of evidence and argumentation are precisely demarcated,
in order to assure that principles of justice are upheld. Do comparable
rules of evidence and argumentation exist in political proceedings? Surely,
for a theory of democracy, it is insufficient for governments simply to
assume the validity of their own claims to explanation and demonstration.
But, if so, how are the validity of claims made by those exercising power
and authority assessed, and who has the right to critique the validity of
such claims?
These questions go to the heart of what it means to investigate the civic
epistemologies of modern societies. Their impact is not only to insist that
we explore, within any given democratic society, the precise mechanisms
of how policy-relevant knowledge is produced, but also the deeper question
of how societies ensure that the public construction of epistemic authority
itself conforms to accepted norms of democratic governance. Consider,
for example, political manipulation of statistical knowledges, a problem
that has plagued the United Kingdom in recent years. In response, the
United Kingdom has created the office of the National Statistician, an
ombudsman who heads the UK Statistical Authority and whose job is to
oversee the production and use of official government statistics. This position
combines epistemic and social authority by embodying that authority in
a person of trust and repute, someone whose epistemic skill as a statistician
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is combined with recognition as a trusted public servant, perhaps through

knighthood or other official recognition. In the United States, where the
challenges of political manipulation of statistics are equally well known,
recourse to such an individual would be seen as wholly inappropriate.
Instead, the United States has turned, consistent with its own civic
epistemology, to procedural mechanisms designed to secure the accuracy
of data, as in the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act and the 2003
Data Quality Act. In each country, however, both threat and response
reflect carefully attuned, socially situated notions of what it means to
constitute epistemic and political authority democratically.
Part Three: The epistemic politics of globalization
While questions of knowledge of epistemology have a long history of
relevance in domestic politics, similar questions have acquired importance
in recent decades in international governance (see, e.g., Jasonoff and Wynne
1998; Raynor and Malone 1998; Jasonoff and Martello 2004). Drivers of
this transformation include the rise of explicitly global policy problems,
the corresponding turn in international governance toward strengthening
the authority of international institutions many of which depend heavily
on forms of knowledge and expertise for their authority and the deepening
implications of global policy decisions for peoples day-to-day livelihoods
and lifestyles. Together, these changes are contributing to growing expectations that global policymaking conform to the norms and expectations
of domestic governance. Thus, for example, non-governmental organizations
and social protest movements called throughout the 1990s for greater
democratization in the decision making of institutions like the World
Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
In what follows, I argue that it is crucial to expand research on civic
epistemologies in international governance. First, it is important to improve
understanding of why and how policy problems are increasingly framed
in explicitly global terms, as well as what this shift in framing implies for
peoples expectations regarding the conduct of international governance.
Second, it is important to analyze the rising influence of international
organizations in response to emerging global policy problems and the
contributions of knowledge and expertise to the construction of their
power and authority. Finally, it is important to assess the epistemic dimensions
of the problem of democratizing international governance.
Framing global policy
A key facet of globalization, yet one that is often underestimated, is the
reframing of policy problems in explicitly global terms. Globalization has
traditionally been understood as a rise in the material interconnections
among economies around the planet. This approach to the study of
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globalization ignores an important epistemic dimension of globalization,

however (Miller 2004c). Increasingly frequently, a range of policy problems
are being represented as capable of being conceptualized, analyzed, and
managed on scales no smaller than the globe. Central to this problem
framing is the description and analysis of natural and social processes,
relationships, and networks said to be ontologically global: the Earths
climate system and ozone layer, financial markets, epidemic diseases, drug
production, terrorism, etc.
This transformation reflects concerted efforts among a range of epistemic
communities (Haas 1990) to construct global representations of issues such
as environmental degradation and economic markets. In almost all cases,
these new global framings explicitly replaced earlier local or national
problem framings. Through the 1960s and 1970s, for example, the global
framing of climate change persisted alongside a more dominant local or
national framing that perceived local or regional climatic fluctuations as
the relevant end point for policy discussions and thus put carbon dioxide
emissions alongside other, often more significant local and regional causes
of climatic variability such as clearing of forests or urban heat islands.
Only in the mid- to late 1980s did the global framing of climate change
emerge as the dominant framing, facilitated by a wide range of social and
epistemic shifts: changing epistemic practices among climate scientists that
led to the rise of computational modeling and satellite data sets (Edwards
2001), shifts in hierarchies among scientists that put computational modeling
at the center of intellectual work in climate science (Shackley and Wynne
1995), and the broader rise of global environmental imaginaries in US
politics ( Jasanoff 2001b). This framing shift in turn helped foster the
creation of a new, global approach to policymaking, giving rise in 1988 to the
creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and in 1992 to
the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and a now two decades
running international negotiation process (for details, see Miller 2004a).
Similarly, during the 1980s, a small but influential group of conservation
biologists became dissatisfied with the species-by-species approach to nature
conservation that dominated national policymaking (e.g., in the 1972 US
Endangered Species Act and other comparable national laws), as well as
the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Seeing the
former as too piecemeal and the latter too narrowly focused on problems
of trade and smuggling but not the wide range of other threats to species,
these scientists worked, first, to construct a new problem biodiversity
loss with the explicit aim of shifting peoples cognitive map from the
need to protect individual endangered species to a concern about threats
to the whole of the Earths biological resources (Takacs 1996). Subsequently,
these scientists engaged in substantial organizational efforts to raise the
profile of their new ideas among policymakers and public opinion leaders,
to enroll key conservation organizations in their agenda, and to secure
financial backing from important US and European foundations for a
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1908 Civic epistemologies: knowledge and order

biodiversity conservation agenda. Their efforts were ultimately successful in

motivating the 1992 UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Strikingly,
however, many developing countries have explicitly rejected the notion
that their forests and other natural areas constitute a global heritage of
humankind, favoring instead to interpret them as national biological
resources and opposing many of the policies sought by conservation
biologists (Miller 2003a).
In addressing the framing of global issues like biodiversity and climate
change, the study of civic epistemologies parallels other constructivist
approaches to these issues, such as media framing analyses (e.g., Hannigan
2006; Mazur and Lee 1993). Where the study of civic epistemology differs
from these accounts is in focusing careful attention on (1) the sociological
transformations that occur intertwined with these novel epistemic framings;
(2) on how competing epistemic and ontological forms of reasoning and
argumentation about global problems are frequently grounded in strong
social and institutional arrangements for making and validating knowledge
in local and national political communities; and (3) the central role of
knowledge institutions and networks in securing and opposing global
framings. Thus, studies of civic epistemology ask how transnational epistemic
communities form and acquire power ( Jasanoff 1996) and why and under
what circumstances do they choose to adopt global policy framings (Taylor
and Buttel 1992)? Which global framings secure credibility and authority
in international governance processes, why, and against what kinds and
sources of resistance? In converse, why does resistance arise to the globalization of policy framings, how is it framed, and under what conditions is
such resistance successful (see, e.g., Reardon 2005)? And what are the
sociological implications of these epistemic contests (Jasanoff 1995a)? How,
in other words, do processes of co-production work to create emergent
epistemic and social orderings in global civic spaces?
Knowledge and global authority
The construction of global policy problems has led, in turn, to the creation
and/or expansion of authority for new and existing international institutions
(Miller 2004a). In the case of global environmental change, for example,
four new major international treaty frameworks were established on the
basis of new, global epistemologies in the period between 1985 and 1994:
ozone depletion, climate change, biodiversity loss, and desertification.
In these cases, not only have 180+ nations joined each treaty, but nongovernmental organizations, industrial trade organizations, and indigenous
groups also play increasingly central roles in shaping international negotiations
(Miller 2003b). More generally, the successful epistemic construction of
new global policy problems for example, currency instabilities in global
financial markets, new threats of nuclear proliferation, and novel infectious
diseases contributed to a significant ratcheting up of the authority of
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international institutions during the 1980s and 1990s. Major reforms

granted the IMF, International Atomic Energy Agency, and World Health
Organization substantial new powers.
Recent growth in the power and authority of these international
organizations derives from three interrelated sources. On the one hand, as
described above, each of these organizations operates in a domain in
which the dominant epistemic framework incorporates a global ontology:
put simply, the policy problems facing the organization are perceived to
be global. At the same time, expert analyses portray the policy significance
of these problems as growing rapidly in significance. Avian influenza, the
most recent reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,
and the rash of national currency crises in the 1990s all contributed to a
rising sense of the need for international governance. Finally, these
specific organizations are expert institutions what I have called, elsewhere,
international knowledge institutions (Miller 2007) which are seen has having
the knowledge and capacity to respond effectively to global policy challenges.
Interestingly, during this same period of time, the World Bank made
substantial efforts to recreate itself as a knowledge bank (Mehta 2001),
while also seeing the scope of its own power and authority rise in response
to the development of novel epistemological resources that have simultaneously enabled the greening of development policy and the expansion
of the World Banks projects to a whole new realm of activities (Goldman
2004, 2005).
The evolving relationship between knowledge and global authority also
raises complex, as yet unexplored questions for future research. Why and
under what circumstances have international institutions acquired increased
power and authority to manage global policy problems? Why have international knowledge institutions, in particular, been the focus of both
historical and recent efforts to create authoritative international institutions?
What role have claims to knowledge played in this authorization of international institutions? Are we seeing a growing legitimating and authorizing
role for knowledge in the exercise of global power? In turn, is the rising
importance of global knowledges giving rise to enhanced scrutiny and
critique of how that knowledge is made, validated, and deployed in
justifying international governance (Miller 2001b, 2007)?
Knowledge and democracy in international governance
The growing power and authority of international institutions accompanying
the ongoing exercise of global power by the United States has begun to
raise questions about legitimacy and democracy in international governance
(Held 2004; King 2003; Verweij and Josling 2003). A key agenda for civic
epistemologies research is to bring critical analysis to bear on both how
knowledge production and validation are structured in international
institutions (so as to better understand whose motives and interests are
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1910 Civic epistemologies: knowledge and order

being served through knowledge claims) as well as the dynamic processes

in which knowledge claims are used, and by whom, to justify and critique
the exercise of power in international governance. In the case of the IMF,
for example, Joseph Stiglitz has argued that structural aspects of the
organization of knowledge production and validation made it impossible
for outside experts to criticize overly narrow and biased IMF interpretations
of evidence (Stiglitz 2002). Had the IMF been forced to structure its
epistemic practices differently, in ways that fostered and made public
legitimate epistemic debates, IMFs failed policies during the 1990s might
have been minimized or even avoided and the IMF might have greater
legitimacy outside of the United States. Stiglitz leaves off where a civic
epistemologies approach might continue, however, in beginning to assess
how structural reforms within knowledge production and validation
practices might contribute to altering the dynamics of power and authority
within international institutions.
In another example, in the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003,
epistemic disputes erupted between the US government and the International
Atomic Energy Agency over evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction
and suspicious Iraqi behavior. These disputes were not merely diplomatic
disputes, however; they spilled over into diverse publics around the globe.
In February 2003, Colin Powells speech to the UN Security Council laid
out an array of evidence that the Bush Administration interpreted as
indicating that Iraq had possession of chemical and biological weapons and
likely either did or soon would have possession of nuclear weapons. By
contrast, in several speeches to the UN Security Council, both before and
after Powells speech, both IAEA Director General Mohammed ElBaradei
and Hans Blix, former IAEA Director General and head of UNMOVIC,
the UN inspection team focusing on chemical and biological weapons, made
clear their view that the existing evidence from their inspections did not
support the finding that Iraq possessed any weapons of mass destruction.
The presentations by Powell, Blix, and ElBaradei all reflected a crucial
point: that factual evidence of Iraqs possession of weapons of mass destruction
would significantly impact the legitimacy of any decision by the United
States or the UN Security Council to authorize an invasion of Iraq. At the
same time, they reflected two very different ways of interpreting that
evidence. Powells attuned to US civic epistemological norms and
practices (and televised in its entirety to substantial audiences in the
United States) was sufficient to achieve the Administrations primary
goal: a short-term bump in public support in the United States for the
invasion that enabled the Administration to temporarily defuse its domestic
critics (even while further alienating publics in other parts of the world).
At the IAEA, however, Blix and then ElBaradei had built a culture of
reasoning that insisted on a much more cautious approach to drawing
conclusions from technical data, one which they felt did not allow them to
conclude yet that Iraq possessed nuclear or biological munitions. Subsequent
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events have tended to confirm this more cautious assessment (for greater
detail, see Miller 2007).
This dispute highlights the centrality of knowledge and epistemology
to global conflicts over the exercise of power. IAEA opposition to US
epistemic claims facilitated political opposition to US action in the UN
Security Council and prevented the UN Security Council from backing
the US invasion. Subsequently, highly publicized failures by the US military
and special nuclear inspections to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq
in the aftermath of the invasion, contributed to the declining legitimacy
of the war among US and global publics. At the same time, building on
a long history of epistemic conflict and failure in the context of development
(Escobar 1995; Ferguson 1990; Scott 1998), as well as the problems of the
IMF and World Bank discussed in earlier paragraphs, this dispute calls into
question the legitimacy of current efforts to co-produce knowledge and
order at global scales (see, also, Miller 2003a; Reardon 2005).
Yet, criticisms of international knowledge making arguably reflect a
positive increase in the deliberative aspects of international relations. The
criticisms of the IMF by both the anti-globalization movement and
Stiglitz have helped to open up global debates over the appropriateness of
IMF decision making and its epistemic foundations. Likewise, the 6 months
preceding the US invasion of Iraq witnessed extensive public debates in
the UN Security Council over the legitimacy of military action by the
United States, as the United States sought UN authorization for its
proposed activities. These debates, too, focused on questions of knowledge
and epistemology: what was known and on the basis of what evidence
about Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction, and whose
interpretations of that evidence held the greatest credibility?
A key driver of growing epistemic debate in international governance
is the diversity of national civic epistemologies. As described briefly above,
styles of policy reasoning, evidentiary standards, and expectations regarding
the appropriate organization of scientific and expert advisory processes vary
considerably, even across advanced industrial democracies such as the
United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France (Brickman
et al. 1985; Jasanoff 2005). These differences stem from variances in processes
for warranting the credibility of policy-relevant knowledge, notions of
what counts as expertise and what kinds of expertise are most appropriate
for policy purposes, normative expectations regarding the delivery of expert
advice (e.g., standards of transparency, accountability, legitimacy, etc.), as
well as the constitutional frameworks and political institutions to whom
knowledge and advice are being offered. While these expectations typically
remain implicit in national affairs, they have given rise to explicit conflict
in international politics. Diplomatic representatives steeped in distinct
national epistemologies have tended to agree in international forums for
the need for scientific support for policy decision making; they have
frequently disagreed over the epistemic, normative, and organizational
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1912 Civic epistemologies: knowledge and order

aspects of how to secure global science advice in the context of deeper

debates over global economic policy.
Consider US and European disputes over the application of the precautionary
principle to a wide range of international policies, from global environmental
change to the risks of biotechnology. In European politics, the precautionary
principle, which is taken to mean that the explicit acknowledgement of
scientific uncertainty need not preclude the possibility of regulatory action,
has become a prominent legal standard. In US politics, by contrast, the
precautionary principle has been rejected as an explicit standard of action.
Thus, although some US environmental laws take precautionary stances,
they do so on the basis of explicit value choices while rejecting the notion
that regulatory action could ever be justified by scientific uncertainty,
per se (Jasanoff 2000). As a result, even US scientists and policy officials
who support stronger international regulation of global risks reject the
epistemic basis of the precautionary principle. These epistemological
differences between the United States and EU have become integral to a
wide range of disputes, perhaps the most prominent of which has been
their dispute at the World Trade Organization over the legitimacy of
restrictions and regulations on trade in genetically modified organisms
(Winickoff et al. 2005).
Put simply, these debates reflect disagreements over how best to construct the epistemic foundations of legitimacy in international governance,
in a world that is deeply divided over questions of economy, environment,
and security. Whose knowledge and ideas must be taken into account in
the construction of policy responses to global problems? What evidentiary
standards and forms of policy reasoning will be acceptable in justifying
global decision making? That these questions are being debated if even
implicitly is, I believe, a positive sign that the growing epistemic authority
and justifications of powerful global actors is increasingly being challenged.
Research on civic epistemologies would suggest, however, an emphasis
on two additional aspects of the relationship between knowledge and
global power.
First, a more explicit and reflexive engagement with questions of knowledge
and power would bring considerable value. In too many facets of international governance, the epistemological and organizational aspects of the
construction of knowledge and expertise go essentially unexamined and
taken for granted. In one recent case, for example, scientific researchers
seeking to implement a program of global DNA sampling from indigenous
communities failed to recognize the deep controversy this research might
raise among research subjects, most of which feel marginalized and threatened
by existing arrangements of national and global governance. Opposition
from these groups and their representatives ultimately prevented the research
project from being undertaken and left bitter relations between scientists
and indigenous activist groups that continues to the present (Reardon 2005).
In many cases, like Stiglitzs account of the IMF discussed above, or like
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the World Intellectual Property Organization in Christopher Mays account,

strong interests essentially engage in epistemic power plays, controlling
knowledge systems in order to control policy (May 2007). By contrast, other
organizations have designed the epistemic infrastructure of international
governance along different lines. For example, the Millennium Ecosystem
Assessment not only systematically sought out participants from among
developing countries researchers and indigenous groups but also granted
them considerable epistemological flexibility in their contributions that fostered
the ability of the Millennium Assessment to make visible epistemic pluralism
at the global scale. The upshot: a very interesting experiment in epistemological democracy in international governance (Miller and Erickson 2006).
What these cases illustrate is missing in international governance are
both notions of good practice regarding knowledge production and
validation that have been democratically legitimated, as well as political
processes that can secure the accountability of global knowledge systems.
A second, potentially valuable challenge for research in this field, therefore,
would be critical analyses of and inputs into the design of good practices
for international knowledge systems. As discussed above, the production
of policy-relevant knowledges is subject to careful regulation in a wide
range of aspects of domestic governance, precisely because of their potential
constitutional implications for the democratic exercise and legitimization
of power. In international governance, however, no comparable political
or legal standards cover the global production of knowledge and expertise.
This has hampered organizations like the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change, which has come under sustained criticism for its
epistemic practices (Edwards and Schneider 2001). By contrast, the
Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice of the UN
Framework Convention on Climate Change has taken a more formal approach
to deliberating and setting standards for scientific advisory mechanisms
within the climate regime. The result has been the slow but steady evolution
of an internationally agreed upon set of scientific and technical advisory
processes that have contributed significantly to the resolution of political
conflict among climate negotiators (Miller 2001b).
Research on civic epistemologies will only grow in importance in the
next decade. As the globalization of policy problems increasingly blurs the
boundary between domestic and international politics, questions about
knowledge and democracy will blur as well. International knowledge
institutions will increasingly gain relevance, even in domestic policy decisions,
as we are currently seeing in relation to energy policy and climate change.
Yet, conversely, this transition will increase conflict over the epistemic
standards of international institutions, challenging their ability to reconcile
or transcend divergent national expectations regarding the production,
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1914 Civic epistemologies: knowledge and order

validation, and use of knowledge, science, and expertise. Can these institutions
evolve globally acceptable civic epistemologies? In the short term, knowledge
failures seem inevitable, either in inappropriately marginalizing relevant
epistemic perspectives, losing credibility, or failing to accommodate diverse
national civic epistemologies. Will these failures give rise, in turn, to renewed
social protests, such as those carried out by the anti-globalization movement,
that might stimulate global standard-setting, or will they lead to a renewed
rejection of international knowledge making? On the other hand, will
successes by international knowledge institutions in capturing authority
over relevant knowledge in key policy domains challenge domestic scientific
advisory institutions and call into question their future relevance and
capacity? Will domestic and international knowledge institutions reinforce
one anothers authority or come into growing conflict as national sovereignty
itself is challenged?
These theoretical questions demand much deeper investigation, analysis,
and understanding of evolving civic epistemologies in the light of rapid
globalization. Of particular note is the need to expand the coverage of
geographic regions and policy domains. There is a strong need for analysis
of the civic epistemologies of states beyond the small number of liberal
Western democracies for which extensive research has been carried out:
the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, and the Netherlands,
in particular. Relatively little has been published, for example, on civic
epistemologies in Asia or among developing states in Africa and Latin
America. As countries such as China and India become more central to
global deliberations, how will their perspectives on knowledge and decision
making alter emerging transnational civic epistemologies. Research is also
needed on a much wider range of international institutions, extending
beyond existing studies of the World Bank and international environmental
Perhaps the biggest challenge to this expansion of research on civic
epistemologies is disciplinary traditions. Within the sociology of scientific
knowledge and science and technology studies, where most research on
civic epistemologies has originated, the tendency has been to assume
that knowledge production and validation occurs predominantly within
scientific laboratories and other sites of scientific research. This assumption
has limited attention to the epistemological foundations of political
institutions and processes as well as to alternative sites of knowledge
production and validation in civic life. At the same time, research on
democratic theory, domestic political institutions, and international relations
has by and large failed to acknowledge epistemic politics. Even where
questions of political knowledge, ideas, and ideology have taken center
stage, however, as in the study of epistemic communities, this research has
focused more on the role of ideas in shaping politics, with little or no
attention to processes of knowledge making. Effective research on civic
epistemologies will require breaking down these disciplinary boundaries
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to open up a wide ranging discussion between research among sociologists

and political scientists.
Short Biography
Clark A. Miller is an Associate Professor in the Consortium for Science,
Policy & Outcomes and the Department of Political Science at Arizona
State University. His research focuses on the role of knowledge in international governance and on the intersection of science and democracy in
contemporary societies. His articles have appeared in Governance, Social
Studies of Science, Science and Public Policy, Science, Technology & Human
Values, and Environmental Values, as well as in Changing the Atmosphere:
Expert Knowledge and Environmental Governance (MIT Press, 2001), a volume
he co-edited on climate science and policy. Prior to his appointment at
ASU, Miller was an Associate Professor in the Robert M. La Follette
School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has
also held postdoctoral positions in the Department of Science & Technology
Studies at Cornell University and the John F. Kennedy School of
Government at Harvard University. He holds a BA from the University
of Illinois and a PhD from Cornell University and is a recipient of the
prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER award.
* Correspondence address: Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes, Arizona State University, PO Box 874401 Tempe, AZ 85287, USA 85284. Email:

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