How citizens resist expert responses by positioning themselves as ‘the ones to be convinced’
This paper examines public meetings in the Netherlands where experts and officials interact with local residents on the human health effects of livestock farming. Using Conversation Analysis, we reveal a ‘weapon of the weak’: a practice by which the residents resist experts’ head start in information meetings. It is shown how residents draw on the given question-answer format to challenge experts and pursue an admission of, for example, methodological shortcomings. We show how the residents’ first question functions as a ‘foot-in-the-door’, providing them with a strong basis for skepticism. By systematically challenging the expert responses, the residents exploit the interaction’s sequential organization, with the effect that the goal becomes them being convinced rather than being informed. Consequently, the withholding of consent becomes the residents’ ‘weapon’. Finally, we argue that in an age where expertise is increasingly contested, it is crucial to understand how, and to what end, this contestation may occur.
Keywords: public meetings, challenging questions, contested expertise, withholding consent, conversation analysis, ‘weapon of the weak’ practice
Published online: 29 October 2021
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