Gereon Rahnfeld


The Role of Experts in Citizen Participation Processes


Experts have become increasingly important in today’s societies. An example for this is the Covid-19 pandemic, in which politicians repeatedly turned to experts for advice on how to combat the pandemic. However, this example has also shown that expert advice is often controversial in terms of who is considered an expert and what knowledge they provide. Thus, while politics has become scientised, science has also become politicised.
One possible reaction to this development is to make decision-making, in which experts have to be involved, more democratic by directly involving citizens. This is done, for example, through citizens’ assemblies (in the political sphere), citizens’ juries (in the judicial sphere) as well as citizen science (in the scientific sphere). However, the question remains how experts influence these processes on their part.

My PhD project takes this question as a starting point and asks how experts can be defined and what role they play in processes of citizen participation. What are the different operations performed by experts? And how can the field of interdependencies in which experts operate be conceptualised? Ultimately, my doctoral project aims to establish a relational understanding of experts that is not only interested in a substantive definition of the latter but more importantly in analysing their mode of existence within participation processes.
My research is informed by both science and technology studies and sociology. As part of my PhD project, I conduct qualitative empirical research based on the framework of the grounded theory method.


I am a research assistant and PhD candidate at the Bauhaus-University Weimar as well as part of the ‘Graduiertenkolleg Medienanthropologie’. Before I joined the post graduate program I worked as a project manager and board member at Liquid Democracy e.V. and as a programme assistant at Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW). I studied law at the University of Hamburg as well as the Charles University in Prague, cultural sciences at the Universität of Leipzig as well as European studies at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences where I received a MSc in 2014.


Tactics of Instability or the Instrumentalisation of Situating, in: The New Alphabet School Blog, 10.1.2020.


Partizipative Politikgestaltung - Über die Verflechtung von demokratischen Innovationen und wissenschaftlichem Wissen, Tagung der DVPW-Sektion Politikwissenschaft und Politische Bildung: Zwischen Technokratisierung und Demokratieanspruch: Zur Relevanz technisch-naturwissenschaftlichen Wissens in Politik und politischer Bildung, Universität Potsdam, 7.-8. September 2023

Participatory Policy Advice – About the Entanglement of Lay People, Experts and Moderators, STS Conference Switzerland - Science, Expertise and other Modes of Knowledge: Trends, Patterns, and Prospects, University of Basel, 31 August – 1 September 2023

Zur ‚Epistemisierung des Juristischen‘ als Krise der Richterlichen Urteilsfindung, Kongress der Österreichischen Gesellschaft für Soziologie (ÖGS) ‚Kritische Zeiten‘, Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien, 3.-5. Juli 2023.

Who Holds Epistemic Authority in Participatory Governance Structures? About Moments of Crisis and Their Stabilisation, STS Italia Conference 2023 ‘Interesting Worlds to Come. Science and Technology Studies Facing More-Than-Human Challenges’, University of Bologna, 28 – 30 June, 2023.

Entangled democracy? How experts and citizens relate in citizen science, 6th Nordic STS Conference 2023 ‘Disruption and Repair in and beyond STS‘, University of Oslo, June 7-9, 2023.

Democratising Expertise – How Citizen Assemblies Fail to Produce Knowledge from Below, Closing conference of the research network ‘The Failure of Knowledge – Knowledges of Failure’, University of Mannheim, May 4-6, 2023.

Doing Citizen Science on the Coast – Some Reflections on the Influence of Place on the Relations Between Scientists and Participants, Conference ‘Circulations’, Human Technology Center Aachen, March 15-17, 2023.

Epistokratische Momente in Demokratischen Prozessen? Über den Umgang von Bürger*innenräten mit Wissensdefiziten, Gemeinsamer Workshop der Arbeitsbereiche Politische Theorie und Ideengeschichte TU Darmstadt / Politische Theorie und Public Policy Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, TU Darmstadt 15.-16. Februar 2023.

Verflechtungen von Expertise in der Wissenschaftsvermittlung: eine Betrachtung des Bürgerrats ‚Deutschlands Rolle in der Welt‘, 5. INSIST-Nachwuchstagung. Wissenschaft und Technologie kommunizieren – Kontroversität, Dialog und Partizipation, Weizenbaum Institut Berlin, 6-7 Oktober, 2022.

Linking Democracy and Epistocracy – How do Participatory Processes and Experts Fit Together?, Summer Workshop ‘The New Normal’, FU Berlin - Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies, 6-7 Juli, 2022.

Which experts should we trust? On the selection processes of experts and their stabilizationPeritia: The Ethics of Trust and Expertise, International Conference at the American University of Armenia, 31 Mai, 2022.

Expert*innen als Vermittlungsmedien? Eine Exploration am Beispiel des ‚Bürgerrats Deutschlands Rolle in der Welt, Jahrestagung der Gesellschaft für Medienwissenschaft zum Thema „Wissensökologien", Universität Innsbruck, 09 / 2021.

Alternativen zum Parteiensystem, Open Ohr Festival, Mainz, (panelist), 06 / 2019.

Einsatz von digitalen Beteiligungswerkzeugen an Universitäten, Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, 11 / 2018.

How can Liquid Democracy help to improve democracy?, Meeting of the ‘European Democracy Network’, Berlin, 06 / 2018.


Wissensgesellschaft (Seminar)
Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, SoSe 2022

Marx and the Machines (Seminar, gemeinsam mit Dr. Katia Schwerzmann)
Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, WiSe 2021/22