of this paper is That Withered Paradigm: the Web, the Expert,
and the Information Hegemony. It is taken from a comment
posted on the online discussion group for an art museum project.
The original message, which was apparently from a web artist,
was "That withered, disreputable, often laughable expert
paradigm is what the Net now displaces."
the ring of truth about itthere is something about
the Web that makes the idea of the expert seem withered -- -
even disreputable and laughable. But why does this happen? And
what exactly is the "expert paradigm?"
that the listserve message probably was not referring to the
expert in the individual sense. A single person might make him
or herself an expert in flower arranging, or Japanese medieval
armor but that is not a paradigm. Instead, the "Expert
paradigm" must be a social construct, a dialogue between
the experts and the rest of society.
I suspect that the Expert Paradigm goes back to the beginnings
of human culture. It probably evolved as a counter to brute
force in human societies. It was a way of creating a value and
use for intellectual activity and insights.
At its basic and most ancient form, the Expert Paradigm was
an undifferentiated variety of what we now call religion. All
members of the "expert class" are still in some sense
priests, practitioners of a hermetic cult giving access to divine
knowledge. And as members of a priestly class, all experts still
have special, quasi-religious status.
As part of our cultural evolution, this undifferentiated expert
form developed into many kinds of expert knowledge -- - astrology,
astronomy, philosophy, natural science, medicine, law, and so
on. All of these types still bear the marks of their proto-religious
origins and follow the expert paradigm.
What, then, are the elements of the Expert Paradigm? 
I propose these five basic characteristics.
The Expert Paradigm requires a body of knowledge. This
can really be any body of knowledge, but abstract knowledge
tends to have higher prestige that practical knowledge.
Predictive knowledge -- - that is, knowledge like astrology
or economics that helps predict future important events
-- - has even higher status.
This body of knowledge, however, need not be objectively
true.  The paradigm only requires that
the experts convince a certain number -- - not necessarily
even a very large number -- - of those outside the group
that the knowledge they control is both true and useful.
That the expert class really has such a true and
useful body of knowledge always tends to be suspect
by outsiders -- - even in expert paradigms which are long
and well established.
Even the best -- - that is, the most objectively truthfulbody
of expert knowledge is wrong some of the time. 
Thanks to the laws of coincidences and averages, even the
worst is right some of the time. These facts of the limits
human understanding can be used either to support or to
attack any body of expert knowledge.
- The expert paradigm creates an "exterior" and an "interior,"
an outer group of laypersons and an inner group of experts.
This is neatly symbolized in the classic Greek Temple form.
There, the columned exterior was for the public. Only the
priests -- the experts -- were allowed in the cramped and
dimly lit interior. This differentiation between interior
and exterior, between insider and outsider, is an essential
feature of the expert paradigm. If there are no insiders,
no experts, the entire structure begins to crumble.
- The expert paradigm uses rules. The paradigm has external
rules for the access to and use of its base of knowledge.
There are also internal rules, usually kept hidden from outsiders,
that regulate the internal affairs of the group, its membership,
and its interface with the outside world.
A self-appointing, self-regulating hierarchy typically
manages both sets of rules. The expert hierarchy is usually
jealous of its privileges and suspicious of outside attempts
to control it. The hierarchy often uses its influence in
the outside world to pass laws that help enforce its rules.
The hierarchy uses the rules and supporting laws to manage
the recruitment, initiation, promotion, and -- - when necessarythe
expulsion of expert insiders. This set of rules and their
organizational application is what I will call the "knowledge
- The expert paradigm uses ritualistic ways to define the
expert group from outsiders. These include initiation ceremonies
of various kinds, the use of symbols, rituals, and monuments
with particular meanings for the insiders, special uniforms
and costumes to identify the experts to outsiders. Expert-insiders
also typically use a specialized language that tends to make
their utterances incomprehensibleyet impressive -- to
the uninitiated. "What a delightful thing is the conversation
of specialists!" the painter Edgar Degas remarked on
this phenomenon. "One understands absolutely nothing
and its charming."
- The expert paradigm is inherently unstable. It is constantly
threatened by factions and turf battles from within and by
skepticism or jealously of its privileged status from without.
Expert paradigms thus tend to break down, fragment, or change
dramatically, as Thomas Kuhn reminds us, 
over time. The Expert Paradigm continues to have a tense relationship
-- - "conflicts of church and state" -- - with political
power. As British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan put it,
"We have not overthrown the divine right of kings to
fall down to the divine right of experts."
One of the main premises of this paper is that innovations
in technology tend to break down and transform existing expert
paradigms. Take, for example, the Christian Church in Renaissance
Western Europe. This was, I think, a prime example of the expert
paradigm. The Church claimed privileged access to an extraordinarily
valuable body of knowledge. It claimed to know the will of an
omnipotent and omniscient God. Most especially valuable, the
Church understood the rules for establishing residency in the
better neighborhoods of the Afterlife. 
The medieval church had developed an elaborate hierarchy, set
of rituals, costumes, rules, and methods for recruiting, controlling,
and separating its members from the outside world. 
It had, moreover, the usual instabilities of all expert paradigms.
It was heavily factionalized within, had to deal with challenges
to its knowledge hegemony called "heresies," and was
locked in continual power struggles with temporal authorities
in Western Europe. 
We are accustomed to think that the Protestant Reformation
started in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the
door of Wittenburgs castle church. Actually, far more
important to the Reformation was the fact that Luther made use
of a developing new technology and printed his views.
The printing press thoroughly undermined one of the key elements
of the medieval Churchs knowledge hegemonythe control
of book production and libraries. Before the printing press,
church members copied books by hand for church-managed libraries.
Books were not only expensive and time-consuming to produce,
they were written in special languages such as Latin and Greek
known primarily to members of the Church hierarchy.
The printing press ended all this.  Cheap
pamphlets ridiculing the Church flooded Europe. Translations
of the Bible, one by Luther himself, into common languages ended
the Churchs control of sacred texts. These printed texts
turned the very elements of the expert paradigm against the
Church to ridicule its pretensions and privileges. Thus the
expert paradigm of the Church lost its credibility and the Church
itself soon shattered into hundreds of fragments.
Todays new communication technology -- - the World Wide
Web -- - also promises to make profound changes in the knowledge
hegemony of a number of fields. I will outline here a few examples
from three areas I am somewhat familiar with -- - journalism,
the art world, and intellectual property.
It is easy to see that the Web tends to eliminate a number
of the characteristic defining points of the knowledge hegemony.
It is quite easy to set up an official-looking knowledge base
on the World Wide Web. A major newspaper, like The New York
Times can do it. So can an individual.
Thus one of the first undermining aspects of the Web is the
elimination of inside-outside. On the Web, it becomes impossible
to differentiate the expert from the non-expert. The rules essential
to maintaining the distinction between the expert paradigm and
the rest of the world can no longer be enforced.
At the time he created the website The Drudge Report, Matt
Drudge was a convenience store clerk working out of his tiny
Hollywood apartment. Drudge worked entirely outside the expert
paradigm of journalism. He by-passed the hierarchies of editor
and publisher and ignored the
internal journalistic laws of verifiable sources and standards
of privacy. By challenging the expert rules that govern what
is and is not news, Drudge was able to scoop the world on the
White House sex scandal that became the Lewinsky Affair. 
Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff, who had spent months
trying to pin down the various rumors of presidential extramarital
affairs, was particularly furious at Drudges behavior.
Isikoff later attacked Drudge for breaking the inner rules of
journalism. "While ignoring the question of whether something
actually happened in the White House
," Isikoff wrote,
"commentators were fascinated by the role of Drudge in
briefly creating a media firestorm. Not surprisingly, a few
called me for comment -- - and I jumped at the chance to publicly
slam him. Hes a menace to honest, responsible journalism,
I told The New York Timess Todd Purdum. He was
through unverified reporting -- - like raw FBI files
-- - and shoveling it onto the Internet, I told The Washington
Posts Howard Kurtz." 
In the process of exposing the scandal, Drudge also created
paranoia and consternation among the various witnesses in the
Lewinsky Affair and shook the entire knowledge hegemony of journalism.
In particular, Drudge indirectly exposed journalisms secret,
internal methods to public scrutiny. Once the "news,"
which journalism traditionally presents as the objective truth,
was revealed to be a manufactured product -- - a product manufactured,
moreover, by methods that seemed cynical and manipulative to
many outsiders -- - the knowledge hegemony of journalism began
to show cracks.
The Web is beginning to have the same kinds of effects in the
art world. Norman Bryson, borrowing an analogy from Foucault,
has compared art museums to prisons, "panopticons"
in which the inmates (or artwork) are both confined and constantly
observed by their keepers, the curators. By locking up most
of the worlds great art in private collections and in
guarded art museums, the insiders of the art world have, to
an amazing extent, been able to control discourse about art
For example, before allowing works of art from their collections
to be published, most art museums not only demand a fee but
also require signed contracts that control, in various ways,
how the work is reproduced and described. Their physical control
of the art also allows art museums to control which artists
are presented to the public, the context in which they are seen,
the publics interaction with the art, and the sorts of
discourses about art that are considered "appropriate."
Museum curators typically think of themselves as acting on
behalf of the artists themselves. Curators generally turn down
requests to publish art works in ways they consider demeaning
-- - for example, in commercial advertising. They often forbid
the use of details, electronic
manipulation and distortion of images, and the like on the
grounds that they are contrary to the original intent of the
With the advent of the World Wide Web, cheap color image scanners,
and easy ways to copy and transmit digitized images, this sort
of control is rapidly beginning to wane. The web site called
"Artchive" appears to be a normal art museum website
-- - with floorplans, a collection catalogue, a museum shop,
and the like. In fact, this site was created and managed by
an individuala nonart historian living in Texas named
Mark Harden -- - who uses it to present his own views about
art. His art images are gatheredvia various quasi-legal
means -- - from around the world and furnish his virtual galleries.
Lately, large corporations like Intel have also gotten into
this act, creating their own museum sites. Some insiders of
the art world are quite up in arms about this development --
- and with good reason. The idea that anyone can manipulate
art, present it, and comment on it in their own way is a deep
threat to the art worlds knowledge hegemony.
Hardens use of images without permission raises my third
example, the assault via the Web on the traditional controls
over intellectual property. Except in a legal sense, intellectual
property is not an expert paradigm in itself. Rather, as a product
of technology and law, intellectual property is most often a
managing tool of expert paradigms, as we have just seen in the
case of art museums.
Contrary to some popular opinion, copyright and intellectual
property were not invented to protect the rights individual
authors. The ancestors of the copyright laws were first used,
in the wake of the creation of the printing press, to control
the destabilizing effects of the new technology on established
hierarchies, especially the Church and the monarchical state.
Thus the proto-copyright laws granted monopoly rights over certain
titles to publishers in return for a royal right to censor all
that was published.
These early copyright laws later came to be used to provide
ways for business entrepreneurs to derive a profit from that
new technology.  After all, the fiscal
beneficiary of the invention of the printing press was not Guttenberg.
He evidently went bankrupt. Nor did the profit go to the first
authors printed, who generally were long dead.
Instead, it was the early entrepreneurs of printing who figured
how to turn profits from the combination of laws and technology.
A contemporary example this process is Microsofts Bill
Gates. Gatess business empire (and knowledge hegemony)
was created, I submit, almost
entirely from his astute understanding and exploitation of
intellectual property laws and not on any special insight into
software technology. 
The World Wide Webs ability to by-pass the status quo
of intellectual property not only shook the confidence of Mr.
Gates, it also threatens to destroy the entire established order
of such things as the music industry. Now that music recordings
can be downloaded directly from websites, normal distribution
methods for recorded music are effectively made obsolete and,
with them, the ability to control the music people hear and
enjoy. Since such downloaded recordings are also so easy to
pirate, the Web also threatens the industrys ability to
make a profit.
Has the Web, then, "withered" the entire "expert
paradigm?" It is too soon to tell. Radio and sound recordings
once had the potential to undermine the old music publishing
industry, which was based on printed sheet music. But the FCC
and such music rights agencies as BMI and ASCAP put a sudden
end to that. There are already considerable efforts to put similar
controls over the World Wide Web.
In the end, I think it is unlikely that the Web will destroy
the Expert Paradigm. It will, however, continue to alter existing
paradigms, to push them in new directions and into new forms,
just as the printing press did in the past. In this, it will
be yet another chapter in the evolution -- - in the adventure
-- - of human consciousness.
The literature on the expert is largely to be found in such
fields as Organizational Behavior and Sociology, the later being
an Expert Paradigm under some stress in recent years. See, for
example, Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday
Life (Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 1973) and Richard M.
Hall, Organizations: Structures, Processes, and Outcomes
(Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1987). return
Scientists, in particular, have trouble accepting that any "body
of knowledge" that cannot claim to be objectively true is worthy
of serious consideration. They do not understand that the value
of the Expert Paradigm is in its social functions, not its quotient
of truthfulness. The long history of religion in human societies,
with competing and incompatible dogmas which cannot be scientifically
verified, suggest that, on the contrary, the social value of
the Expert Paradigm has little or nothing to do with "truth"
as the scientist views it. return
Often, the popularity of an expert body of knowledge seems to
been inversely proportionally to its objective verifiability.
For example, astrology and astronomy both grew up together as
predictive sciences. Today, astronomers' ability to predict
future astronomical events is, for all everyday intents and
purposes, flawless. Astrological predictions remain far less
precise. Yet, daily media coverage of astrology and astronomy
suggests that astrology remains far more popular than astronomy.
Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.
International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, v. 2, no. 2 (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1970). Kuhn, of course, gave "paradigm"
and "paradigm shift" to the post-modern glossary. It should
be noted, however, that his use of the work is somewhat different
than mine. For Kuhn, a paradigm is a kind of resting point in
the progressive development of a body of knowledge. Once the
natural inertia of the knowledge base has been overcome, according
to Kuhn, it in effect rolls to a higher place. My use of the
word paradigm is closer to its pre-Kuhn sense of "model" or
"pattern." In my estimation, changes in the knowledge base (which
are not necessarily "improvements") are less important than
shifts and alterations in the entire expert paradigm. return
Outrage at the Church's sale of indulgences -- in effect, providing
access to heaven in return for contributions to such projects
as the creation of the new basilica of St. Peter's in Rome --
was one of the leading causes of the Reformation. return
Among the methods the church developed were monasteries and
celibacy. Both separated its expert members from the outside
world and allowed the church to control its expert membership,
since one could not be born into membership. return
The Church's claim to temporal power in Western Europe was the
source of constant friction with secular authority well into
the 20th century. return
See, for example, Mark U. Edwards, Jr., Printing, Propaganda,
and Martin Luther (Berkeley: University of California Press,
For a profile on Drudge, see D. McClintock, "Matt Drudge, Town
Crier for the New Age." Brill's Content, November, 1988.
Michael Isikoff, Uncovering Clinton: A Reporter's Story
(New York: Crown Publishers, 1999), p. 167. Elsewhere in his
book, Isikoff is a particularly eloquent and insightful commentator
on the inner rules of journalism and their internal contradictions,
which perhaps suggests one source of the inherent instability
of the Expert Paradigm. return
Curators ignore, in holding these positions, that the history
of art is much longer than the history of art museums and that
art itself has generally progressed by each generation appropriating
the images of its predecessors and altering them, often beyond
all recognition. return
See, for example, Ronald U. Bettig, Copyrighting Culture:
The Political Economy of Intellectual Property (Boulder,
CO: Westview Press, 1996); Anne Wells Branscomb, Who Owns
Information?: From Privacy to Public Access (New York: Basic
Books, 1994). return
Bill Gates founded his fortunes by contracting to provide IBM
with a disk operating system to IBM for its new personal computer.
At the time of the arrangement, Gates did not possess such a
system. He purchased the rights to what became MS-DOS from another
company for a nominal sum. Since Gates understood intellectual
property better than IBM's executives did, he retained the right
to license MS-DOS to manufacturers making IBM-compatible machines.
Thanks to IBM's dominance in hardware, MS-DOS and Windows gained
dominance in operating software, but IBM's lack of control over
its own operating system meant that Microsoft's fortunes and
power grew at IBM's expense. IBM saw power in hardware. With
considerably foresight, Gates saw the coming shift in power
towards software and intellectual property. return