Knowledge as legitimation in specific sectors

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Scientific advice is a source of legitimisation in the political field. But as such, it nourishes the naive expectation of a hand-in-hand task-sharing between science and policy.

Allouch & van Zanten (2010) propose a more practicable model of knowledge in public action. They postulate that "contrary to a perspective that seems rational from an intellectual perspective and desirable from the point of view of management, politicians and policy-makers do not develop proposals after careful consideration of the results of evaluations of previous policies in the area under consideration, even less of existing research on the topic but that they tend to think first in terms of policy proposals and to use research and expertise to support, bolster and justify their decisions. This is so because policy-makers are more intent in producing proposals that attract attention and build consensus around them and their political base rather than proposals that will produce uncertain effects on the middle or long run“ (Allouch, van Zanten, 2010, 9). They argue that this logics is the more at work than the political regime is unstable, like in France, and in fields, such as education, which are central to the social integration of the society and therefore so important for the image and legitimacy of the political leaders.

The differences between fields and sectors seem to be central. Cibele & al. (2010) mention as well, that especially in fields which have an ideological overload and have strong connections to core values and beliefs, such as education, the pressure for external legitimisation grows remarkably. “The public action is interspersed by ideological and religious controversies that are not compatible with bureaucratic and uniform modalities of decision and execution; the “delicacy” of the topic and the controversy generated in public opinion led the government to reinforce the mechanisms (real and symbolic) of “knowledge-based policy”, turning to the “experts” as “guarantors”, to compensate their shortfall of competences and legitimacy in this area in the eyes of the public opinion” (Cibele & al., 2010, 63).


  • ALLOUCH A., van ZANTEN A. (2010), The role of knowledge in the elaboration and instrumentation of policies of widening participation in higher Education elite institutions in France. KNOWandPOL report.
  • CIBELE C., BARROSO J., CARVALHO M. (2010), Knowledge and public action. Sex education in school. KNOWandPOL report.

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