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Expert Ignorance


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Table of Contents

1. Introduction; 2. Ignorance and the practice of rule of law reform; 3. Projecting the rule of law; 4. Performing the rule of law; 5. Law and politics of rule of law performances; 6. Historicising rule of law performances; 7. The sociology of rule of law performers; 8. Conclusion

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Adopts an interdisciplinary approach to study 'expert ignorance', or the power of experts who continually admit the limits of their knowledge.

About the Author

Deval Desai is Lecturer in International Economic Law at the University of Edinburgh. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and the Young Academy of Scotland and was an inaugural International Rule of Law Fellow at the Bingham Centre.


''Disenchanted' expertise that becomes 'self-denying' rests on and professes ignorance. In this provocative, innovative, and elegant book, Desai explores 'expert ignorance' in rule of law reform performances. He argues that expert ignorance moves the rule of law in the direction of 'Governance'. Critical and political, the argument deserves engagement.' Anna Leander, Professor of International Relations and Political Science, Geneva Graduate Institute
'In this pathbreaking study of the field of rule of law reform, Desai explores the productive power of 'ignorance work' as a form of expert practice, examining the ways in which it helps to produce 'provisional, fluid, and reconfigurable' forms of the rule of law. With this innovative argument, which draws on his own years of experience as a practitioner in the field, Desai firmly establishes himself as one of the most insightful analysts of reflexive expertise, not only in the field of development but also beyond. This book is at the cutting edge of new thinking in critical development studies and global economic governance.' Andrew Lang, Chair in International Law and Global Governance, University of Edinburgh
'Desai applies a sophisticated theoretical perspective to critically examine the ideas and actions of law and development scholars and practitioners. This penetrating and challenging first-hand look at expert ignorance defies categorisation and stands out in imagination and insight.' Brian Tamanaha, John S. Lehmann University Professor, Washington University in St Louis
'In international development, 'building the rule of law' has the paradoxical status of being perhaps its most widely supported yet least successful policy objective. To this day, its leading practitioners openly concede that they 'don't know what they are doing' - or, indeed, what the rule of law itself even is. Desai provides an insightful, compelling, and intellectually innovative explanation of this paradox: law and development is replete with expert ignorance, requiring its champions to simultaneously own and disown, deploy and withhold, assert and deny, their expertise - with all manner of vexing consequences. Forging a world in which its most marginalised citizens begin to experience the law as a legitimate, accessible, and effective part of the solution to (rather than a source and compounder of) their problems requires all of us to join Desai in diligently wrestling with this truly unique challenge, in an ongoing quest for the correspondingly unique responses it necessarily requires.' Michael Woolcock, World Bank and Harvard University
'This erudite, engaging, and elegantly crafted book trespasses disciplinary boundaries to offer rich and unexpected insights for legal and social theorists, scholars of development and international relations, and practitioners of all stripes. It demands reading by those with a critical orientation towards projects of legal change - and re-reading for Desai's eye for vivid social, political, and lived detail.' Shalini Randeria, President and Rector, Central European University

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