chapter  8
10 Pages

Contested Knowledge

In our highly professionalized culture, the public debate over controversial topics is overwhelmed by privileged arguments. Experts attempt to exclude public knowledge from such ongoing controversies in order to keep knowledge “pure” (Tsing, 2005). Civil disputes, whether they are about the disposal of toxic waste, potential harm to public health, or other highly charged issues like those outlined in the preceding case studies, are seen as being fit only for expert debate. Lay questions, objections, and attempts to resolve uncertainty are often dismissed as uninformed, lacking in scientific vigor, irrational, and at times, almost hysteric. One woman whose life had been changed by the TVA ash spill recalled an exchange with a TVA official who avoided answering her questions and dismissed her reasoning. In response, she said, “Why do you treat us as stupid, why do you reject our arguments while upholding yours as the only reasonable ones?” (Enhorn, May, 2009). This frustration typifies the kind of rejection and frustration many disaster victims suffer in contesting official versions of reality.