, Volume 48, Issue 3, pp 239-269
Date: 29 Jan 2014

Common Sense of Experts

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Abstract

The dialectics between different modes of knowledge is at the very core of social sciences. In particular, the theory of social representations looks at expert and lay modes as they were not peculiar of specific domains but rather as they were mutually interdependent. Based on the conceptual distinction between reified and consensual universes, this article explores the interplay between these two sources of knowledge through the analysis of the social representations of justice produced by justice professionals. In particular, the exploration of the social representations of justice amongst experts offers intriguing clues to overtake the idea that the lay understanding of justice is somehow opposed to the expert viewpoint and to accept the polyphasic understanding of this complex object. The article reports the findings of a qualitative investigation of the social representations of justice amongst professionals. The staff members of the Youth Social Services (YSS) and the Juvenile Classification Home and Residential Community (JCHRC) were interviewed, and transcriptions were content analysed. The findings indicated that professionals generate multiple theories of justice with each presenting a particular articulation of the basic interplay between expert and lay viewpoints. Most important, findings indicate that the context of everyday working practice has a significant symbolic valence that goes beyond the boundaries of the reified context of institutional justice system.