Field trips play a significant role in the building of expert knowledge of numerous institutions. So why is their nature and significance for knowledge production rarely discussed in the anthropology of expertise? In this paper, I draw on the particular instance of an expert field trip undertaken by a disaster management organization in the Indian state of Odisha in the aftermath of Cyclone Phailin in 2013. I show that field trips are contingent practices defined by their sequential logic, relationships, interests, and by the personal perceptions of people who undertake them. The choice of personnel to carry out this field exercise is fundamental and depends on institutional views of aims and understandings of what constitutes expertise. In line with E. Summerson Carr’s argument that expertise is something people “do” rather than “hold”, I show that enacting expert status serves to assert power and to enable its holder to achieve their aims.
Hannah Swee and Zuzana Hrdličková
Although communities around the world have been experiencing destructive events leading to loss of life and material destruction for centuries, the past hundred years have been marked by an especially heightened global interest in disasters. This development can be attributed to the rising impact of disasters on communities throughout the twentieth century and the consequent increase in awareness among the general public. Today, international and local agencies, scientists, politicians, and other actors including nongovernmental organizations across the world are working toward untangling and tackling the various chains of causality surrounding disasters. Numerous research and practitioners’ initiatives are taking place to inform and improve preparedness and response mechanisms. Recently, it has been acknowledged that more needs to be learned about the social and cultural aspects of disasters in order for these efforts to be successful (IFRC 2014).