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Impressions in action: the socially situated construction of expertise in the workplace

Aditya Johri (Department of Applied Information Technology, Volgenau School of Engineering, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA, USA)

Journal of Organizational Ethnography

ISSN: 2046-6749

Article publication date: 9 March 2015




The impressions of others’ expertise are fundamental to workplace dynamics. Identifying expertise is essential for workplace functions such as task assignment, task completion, and knowledge generation. Although prior work has examined both the nature of expertise and its importance for work, formation of expertise impressions in the workplace has not received much attention. The paper aims to discuss these issues.


In this paper the author addresses the question – how do we form expertise impressions in the workplace – using data from an ethnographic study of a workplace setting. The author employs a case study of project team formation to synthesize a process framework of impression formation.


The author proposes a framework that integrates sociocultural and interactional accounts to argue that actors utilize situational and institutional frames to socially construct their expertise impressions of others. These frames emerge as actors engage in activities within a community of practice.


This practice-based explication of expertise construction moves beyond narrow conceptions of personality-based traits or credentials as signals of expertise. It explains why sharing of expertise within organizations through the use of information technology continues to be problematic – expertise is an enactment and therefore it defies reification through knowledge management.



This work was partially funded by MediaX at Stanford and by the US National Science Foundation under Award Nos. EEC-0954034 (PI: Johri), IIS-0220098 (PI: Hinds), and IIS-0219754 (PI: Cramton). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding agencies. The author would like to thank the informants for their participation.


Johri, A. (2015), "Impressions in action: the socially situated construction of expertise in the workplace", Journal of Organizational Ethnography, Vol. 4 No. 1, pp. 44-63.



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