Authority beyond institutions: the expert’s multivocal process of gaining and sustaining authoritativeness

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5 Scopus citations


After briefly examining how expert authority has been constructed through an “associative” perspective, which privileges institutional relationships, I argue for the complimentary adoption of an “enactive” perspective, which centers on how experts demonstrate and earn authority with individual clients and communities. I synthesize scholarship revealing the uses of communication in expert–client relationships to argue that an enactive perspective allows for the study of how experts use “reiterative multivocality” to demonstrate to clients that they possess expert knowledge that is tailored to their interests, stakes, and values. Reiterative multivocality is the process of reaffirming, in different voices and formats, terms and symbols considered centrally important by other experts at the time. It allows experts to communicate authoritativeness through reiterating signs that reflect the collective’s efforts to maintain authority in response to shifts in client expectations. I focus on the case of expert authoritativeness in medicine, examining how it is constructed and maintained. The article argues that authority is not rooted solely in institutions but is developed and maintained by individual experts and clients, and that the language and processes used in the construction of authoritativeness is of central importance to sociologists. I expand upon the implications of both perspectives for method.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)490-517
Number of pages28
JournalAmerican Journal of Cultural Sociology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Authority
  • Expertise
  • Medicine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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