We wish to congratulate Catelijne Coopmans and Graham Button on the award of the ASA EMCA distinguished paper award for
Coopmans, Catelijne & Button, Graham (2014) “Eyeballing Expertise”, Social Studies of Science, 44(5): 758-785.
This paper offers an ethnomethodological study of the job of classifying eyes, in view of detecting ‘diabetic retinopathy’, at the Singapore Advanced Imaging Laboratory for Ocular Research. The study does not only develop a highly perceptive analysis of diagnostic work at this medical facility, but it does also offer an exemplary demonstration of ‘ethnomethodological respecification’ in and for the field of science and technology studies (STS). It does so by offering an empirical reappraisal of H. Collins’ recent ‘theory of expertise’. Instead of classifying different kinds of possible expertise urbi et orbi (as Collins, in collaboration with R. Evans, does), the paper homes in on how a distinctive set of procedural skills (or ‘technical expertise’) is actually drawn upon in situ. This empirical reappraisal of Collins’ theory – to our knowledge, the first of its kind – is of analytic import for the social study of ‘tacit knowledge’ in EM, STS and beyond. It notably demonstrates the heuristic interest of the shift from a broad theory of ‘ubiquitous expertises’ (sic) and their classification (‘what is expertise?’, ‘who can possess it?’, ‘how should it be classified?’, etc.) to a subtle description of enacted expertise as an ethnomethodological phenomenon, including classification as a constitutive part of a distinctively technical, yet plainly observable practice (‘expert eye grading, in action and interaction’). Thereby, the paper dissolves some of the ‘puzzles’ of Collins’ (and Evans’) ‘normative theory of expertise’, puzzles that appear as technical artifacts of their ‘philosophically oriented social science’ (Collins, Evans 2007:7). In marrying descriptive analysis and conceptual critique, Coopmans’ and Button's respecification offers an insightful articulation of different strands of ethnomethodological inquiry, which may thus also have paradigmatic implications for related fields, including not only STS but also systems and interface design, if not the social sciences at large.