Signage at Nike Missile Control Site LA-96 in Los Angeles

Expert Concepts in the Human Sciences

On May 5th, STPL hosted a one-day workshop, building on a long-standing collaborative project on “expert concepts.” The workshop examined methods in the critical human sciences, drawing on approaches to the study of expertise from historical epistemology and the anthropology of the contemporary. Participants engaged with the question of whether such inquiry might be conceived as an “art of diagnosis.” The term diagnosis derives from the ancient Greek, to discern or distinguish. Thus, it refers to a kind of knowledge about the specificity of a case based on having made a close examination, and it is oriented to the discernment of a pathos or problem. In the 17th century it became a medical term, meaning to ascertain a particular disease based on its symptoms. In the human sciences, an art of diagnosis might ask: what are the right diagnostic tools? Does making a diagnosis point to a means of treatment? And how might one assess whether a diagnosis is flawed? The workshop was co-organized by USC Berggruen Fellow Cameron Brinitzer, anthropologist Talia Dan-Cohen (Washington University – St. Louis) and STPL director Andrew Lakoff, and included scholars from Harvard, the New School, UC Berkeley, UCLA, and USC.