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‘Voice’ and the facts and observations of experience

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The facts of social sciences are ones that stem from scientific expertise, but in the social world, everyone is their own expert. Everyone lives in society, and experiences either first-hand, or closely second-hand, the same phenomena that social scientists investigate. Consequently, people are not only the subjects of scientific investigation, but are themselves amateur reflexive scientists: observing and making sense of their own experiences in social and economic affairs, And, in a democratic community, such personal experience claims a legitimate place in knowledge discussions. These two qualities mean that the observations from personal experience can not be so lightly dismissed by the social scientist, in the same way as the traditional observations of folk-lore can be trumped by the facts of scientific knowledge in the natural sciences. Yet, these facts of personal experience may not travel easily, for the possibilities of voicing that experience depend in part on the nature of the social science involved and in part on the civic epistemology of the environment within which they can be expressed. The considerations which underlie the successful articulation of experienced knowledge suggest that “voice” differs from both “engagement” and “understanding” as a way to characterize public participation in social science – as opposed to natural science – knowledge discussions.

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