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Inner truth evaluation (ITE)

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The study examines how the inner truth of individuals is rendered an object of examination by public officials and experts.

We focus on three cases:

  1. the assessment of an asylum seeker’s sexual orientation,
  2. the evaluation of whether an asylum seeker claiming to have converted from one religion to another has truly changed their beliefs and
  3. the diagnostic process that individuals seeking gender-affirming treatment undergo.

While these cases are in some way widely different, from the perspective of our study, they share some common features. First, they all concern personal experiences and emotions that are extremely difficult to assess by other people. Second, in each case, the evaluative practices are highly contested by various actors in society. Third, there is asymmetrical power relationship between the evaluator and the person being assessed. This means that the individual under assessment holds less power with regard to the outcome of the evaluation.

By focusing on these three cases, which have not been previously analysed together, our research provides a much-needed critical perspective on the evaluative practices that experts use to assess the inner truth of individuals. We analyze the expert authority, technologies of evaluation and testimonial practices involved in the assessment processes. We do not try to evaluate people's sexuality, gender, or faith! In each case, we are interested in analysing the evaluation process itself and people's experiences of it - not whether the experts or the people being evaluated are right or wrong. It is important to make visible different aspects and viewpoints involved in these processes, which affect so many lives.

It is crucial to examine the evaluation processes, as the experts involved are entrusted with power to make far-reaching decisions regarding people’s lives in cases that defy objective criteria. The results of this project are vital for combating discrimination based on gender, religion and sexual orientation. Transparency in decision-making concerning the inner truth of individuals is needed for a social change and developing ethically sustainable evaluation criteria. This is also important because the officials making the decisions are currently put in extremely challenging situations.

The data in the study include

  • official guidelines and forms used in the evaluations,
  • interviews with individuals under evaluation and the authorities conducting evaluations,
  • public debates concerning the expertise of evaluators.

Theoretically the study brings together three emerging strands of sociological scholarship that have not previously been in dialogue with each other: epistemic governance, sociology of valuation and evaluation, and epistemic injustice and vulnerability. These frameworks offer tools for concurrently analyzing the three scenes of evaluation: the national public sphere, the institution, and the evaluation room. Methodologically the study utilizes various discourse analytical tools and approaches.

Valtteri Vähä-Savo
valtteri.vaha-savo [at]

Venla Koivuluhta
venla.koivuluhta [at]

Johanna Hiitola
johanna.hiitola [at]

Funding source

Kone Foundation

Tampere Centre for Knowledge, Science, Technology and Innovation Studies

TaSTI research centre focuses on issues related to science, technology and innovation, which have become central due to information society development and economic globalisation.