Dissertation Abstracts

Management consultants: Organizational Professionalism in Knowledge Work

Author: Maestripieri, Lara , lara.maestripieri@gmail.com
Department: Sociology and Social Research
University: University of Trento, Italy
Supervisor: Barbara Poggio
Year of completion: 2011
Language of dissertation: Italian

Keywords: professionalism , knowledge workers , organisation , management consultan
Areas of Research: Professional Groups , Organization , Work


In contemporary sociological debate, the concept of knowledge work is becoming popular and it is quite often used to address a series of new professionals belonging mostly to advanced business services. Some scholars (such as Butera 2008, Chicchi, Ruggero 2009 and Bologna 2011) have already faced the issue of knowledge in the advanced business services in Italy, but only one study has focused on the consequences of knowledge work on identity and on how people live their own job (Bologna, 2011). This PhD dissertation positions itself in this debate by attending to the actors directly involved in such change. Specifically, the research relies on the analysis of narratives and biographies of professionals using a narrative approach. The study's main aim is to discuss the systemic transformations introduced by knowledge work on the economy, as well as to discuss who falls into the category of a knowledge worker, how many knowledge workers there are in Italy and how they perform and present their own identities as professionals. The concept of organizational professionalism is used as the main theoretical framework (Evetts, 2011; Noordegraf, 2011); this allows the study of knowledge workers through the lens of the sociology of professions, even if most of the professionals in advanced business services are still in their own way to professionalize.
The issue of professional identity of knowledge workers will be investigated by using the case study of management consultancy, which the existing literature has already considered to be relevant example of advanced business professionals (Meriläinen et al, 2004; Muzio et al, 2008; Donnelly, 2009; Bologna, 2011). The services offered by management consultants are paradigmatic forms of the contemporary model of work organising, as long as they are based on projectification (Hodgson, 2008), on immateriality (Corsani et al, 1996), on the globalisation of the biggest corporation of the sector (Berrebi-Hoffman, 2006), and on the strategic use of knowledge (Kipping, 2011).
This dissertation is based on 55 in-depth interviews with management consultants, conducted in Italy between 2009 and 2010. The analysis is based on the triangulation of different qualitative techniques: I used the methodology of biographical trajectories (Olagnero, Saraceno, 1993) and of positioning (Bamberg, 1997) for creating a typology of management consultant trajectories that are revealed through exemplary narrations (Gherardi, Poggio, 2007). Stemming from individual and institutional factors, the data reveals the contemporaneous presence of conflicting identities (the SELF-Employed, the unwilling consultant, the yuppie and the professional consultant), depending on their main positioning reference (managers vs. professionals) and the direction of their professional project (persistence vs. transition in management consultancy).
The four exemplary narrations explain organisational professionalism by showing how organization becomes the privileged space in which the informal community of management consultants exchange ideas among peers and socialize new members into the profession. Professionalism is not anymore opposed to managerialism: performed within the organisations, the organized professionalism claims the need for autonomy in its own job, applying managerial and commercial principles in performing professional activities.