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“Public Policy is Like Having a Vaudeville Act”: Languages of Duty and Difference among Think Tank-Affiliated Policy Experts


This research note uses in-depth interviews, ethnographic observations, and archival records to examine the self-understandings of think tank-affiliated policy experts. I argue that policy experts draw on a series of idioms—those of the academic scholar, the political aide, the entrepreneur, and the media specialist—to construct a unique albeit synthetic professional identity. The essence of the policy expert’s role lies in a continuous effort to balance and reconcile the contradictory imperatives associated with these idioms. An analysis of the policy expert’s mixed “professional psyche” offers a useful point of entry into the objective social structure of the think tank.

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