Translating Expertise across Work Contexts: U.S. Puppeteers Move from Stage to Screen


Anteby, Michel, and Audrey L. Holm. 2021. “Translating Expertise across Work Contexts: U.S. Puppeteers Move from Stage to Screen.” American Sociological Review 86 (2): 310-340. Copy at
translation_final.pdf308 KB

Date Published:



Expertise is a key currency in today’s knowledge economy. Yet as experts increasingly move across work contexts, how expertise translates across contexts is less well understood. Here, we examine how a shift in context—which reorders the relative attention experts pay to distinct types of audiences—redefines what it means to be an expert. Our study’s setting is an established expertise in the creative industry: puppet manipulation. Through an examination of U.S. puppeteers’ move from stage to screen (i.e., film and television), we show that, although the two settings call on mostly similar techniques, puppeteers on stage ground their claims to expertise in a dialogue with spectators and view expertise as achieving believability; by contrast, puppeteers on screen invoke the need to deliver on cue when dealing with producers, directors, and co-workers and view expertise as achieving task mastery. When moving between stage and screen, puppeteers therefore prioritize the needs of certain audiences over others’ and gradually reshape their own views of expertise. Our findings embed the nature of expertise in experts’ ordering of types of audiences to attend to and provide insights for explaining how expertise can shift and become co-opted by workplaces

Last updated on 02/05/2022