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Card-index course

Expert knowledge and lay knowledge

Savoirs experts - savoirs profanes

Responsible Faculty: Faculty of Social and Political Sciences (SSP)

Teacher(s): Cynthia Kraus, Francesco Panese
Lecturer(s): -

Validity: 2015 -> 2015

No timetable defined.


Spring semester
12 hours per week
84 hours per semester

Teaching language(s): French
Public: Yes
Credits: 9.00


General goal:

To develop a critical understanding of the productive dynamics between « expert » knowledge and « lay » knowledge from the perspective of the social and human sciences of medicine and health, enriched with group discussions on specific case studies.

Learning objectives:

The students will be able to:
- identify situations of tension in the current debates about health issues and medical practices;
- design a research project on a specific situation (case study);
- mobilize the relevant critical tools to analyze the chosen case study;
- collect interesting data from scientific and media sources and from the actors concerned;
- synthetize, analyze, and discuss the results of their study;
- write (in groups) a paper following the rules and requirements for a scientific publication;
- if appropriate, expand on the research project in the context of a Master thesis.


The relationships between expert knowledge and lay knowledge and their contemporary developments are a major issue of university education in general, and in the social and human sciences curriculae in particular, for forming experts that will interact closely with the social world.

Contemporary societies are indeed characterized by intensive use of scientific and technical knowledge - in the broadest sense - to guide a wide range of actions, from global policies to individual behaviors. In this regard, they operate on an ideal of complementarity between, on the one hand, the work of objectivation of complex situations entrusted to experts in the name of rigor and accuracy, and on the other hand, a movement of politicization(the collective level) and of subjectivation (the individual level), through which institutions and individuals should adapt their decisions, actions, and practices in the light of this objectivation. Ideally, the good congruence between expert knowledge and lay knowledge would warrant responsible decisions and actions.

This general phenomenon is observable in a variety of areas that aim to reduce the risks of collective or individual actions, especially when it comes to the natural environment transformed by human activities, the social environment of a "living together" or the sanitary concern for the "healthy body."

Yet, as shown by numerous sociological studies of science, the boundaries between expert knowledge and lay knowledge are eroding, especially when the skills of the so-called lay people contribute to produce knowledge practices and, by extension, when the citizens-users become involved in political and technical decision-making about their environmental, social or individual existence.

While providing the theoretical and methodological bases necessary to tackle this general theme, this course will provide the opportunity to identify, document and analyze a series of concrete and specific situations that crystallize the evolving relations between expert knowledge and lay knowledge in particular in the areas covered by the orientation "Body, science and health."


1. A generous PROGRAM OF INVITED SPEAKERS will address the following topics:
- "Lay" theories and representations of diseases compared to "expert" medical knowledge.
- The involvement of patients' associations in biomedical research and governance of health issues.
- The place and role of the users in controversies about medication and drug products.
- The mobilization of "lay" people in controversies linking environmental and health issues.
- Role of and challenges for medical-psychiatric expertise in the context of court trials.
- Self-management of health and participatory construction of medical knowledge.

2. Students will realize a COLLECTIVE RESEARCH which will focus on the general theme of "MATERNITY" and whose results will be valorised as part of the events organized for the 100th anniversary of the Maternity of CHUV in 2016.


This course implements a collaborative and exploratory approach, and offers 4 different teaching formats to this end: a) Thematic presentations by invited speakers; b) workshops (presentations and discussions of selected texts; discussions on data collection; supervision; c) Fieldwork; d) Colloquium (group presentations of the research projects and results.

Program of the Thematic presentations by invited speakers (see french version)


Contrôle Continu Sans inscription (CCS).
In principle, the students will work in groups of 2.
The final grade depends on 4 items:

1. Oral presentation of a text (in connection with the themes presented by the invited speakers).

2. Fieldwork and data gathering, including filmed interviews.

3. Oral presentation of research results during the conference session.

4. Analysis of collected materials (text of 15-20'000 characters).


Corpus de texte disponible en pdf sur myUnil.

Programme requirements


Canton de Vaud
Swiss University
Unicentre  -  CH-1015 Lausanne  -  Suisse  -  Tél. +41 21 692 11 11  -  Fax  +41 21 692 26 15