“Common Sense Geography” and the Elected Official: Technical Evidence and Conceptions of ‘Trust’ in Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway Decision


  • Patrick G. Watson McMaster University




Public Policy, Evidence, Knowledge Sociology, Ethnomethodology


In fields such as Sociology and Political Science, there have been, over the course of three decades, attempts to engage elected officials in “Evidence-Based Decision-Making”. Evidence is generally conceived as “expert” advice provided to politicians. A question that has gained more centrality in recent years is “why do elected officials not trust expert opinion or technical evidence?” and the answer to this question has been sought in historical or general terms (e.g. Irwin 2006; Weiss et al. 2008; Kraft et al. 2015). Here I will propose an alternative question: “when politicians exhibit a lack of trust in expert advice, how is such skepticism publicly accounted for?” I will examine this question by utilizing a case study ethnographic approach to the City of Toronto’s controversial decision to endorse the Hybrid alternative for the Gardiner expressway. By doing so, I intend to show that knowledge controversies are not inherently a form of deficiency on the part of the elected official – that they are ignorant to the implications of evidence – but rather the standard by which elected officials and appointed experts review and understand evidence can lead to very different (although both reasonably ‘correct’) conclusions.

Author Biography

Patrick G. Watson, McMaster University

Patrick is a sessional lecturer in the Sociology department and Social Psychology program at McMaster University. He completed his PhD in 2010 at the University of Manchester, UK. His research employs ethnographic approaches to interrogate the concept of knowledge in various settings, particularly political or bureaucratic/administrative environments.