Sub-theme 33: Management Occupations: Exploring Boundaries and Knowledge Flows

Stefan Heusinkveld
VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Andrew Sturdy
University of Bristol, UK
Andreas Werr
Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden

Call for Papers

This sub-theme aims to advance our understanding of contemporary management and organisations by focusing on the multiple, dynamic and often diffuse boundaries between different management occupations. In particular, it is concerned with how the construction of such occupations and boundaries shapes knowledge flows and management innovation.

Boundaries, or social structuring, are central to our experience and understanding of organisational life. The insider-outsider organisational boundary and inter-occupational conflict have long been recognised within organisational and innovation studies. Occupational groups compete for influence and dominance in shaping management and organisations, partly through the establishment of 'new' and legitimate ideas and practices, partly through relating to and appropriating existing popular management ideas and practices. But in many prior studies, such boundaries between different management occupations remain ill-defined, or were often thought of as largely static or 'sticky'.

In recent years, the combination of theoretical shifts towards a more processual view of the world and empirical changes in organisations and occupations point to greater flux and more diffuse and dynamic relationships. In the context of management for example, activities such as project and change management are no longer confined to particular specialist groups, often outside the organisation. Rather, they are appropriated by both line management and various, sometimes new, occupational groups such as internal consultants, auditors, accountants, project managers, interim managers, HR managers, purchasing managers and IT professionals, each with their own specific routines, methods, rhetorics and cultures. We can even observe a "consultification" in many staff functions, turning functional specialists into (internal) consultants, further contributing to the blurring of traditional occupational boundaries and identities. This opening up, combined with the rise of project-based working and various inter-organisational linkages and networks, can result in hybrid and less embedded occupational forms where more actors face conditions of liminality, shifting cultural and political boundaries and multiple and switching identities. This is likely to shape organisational knowledge flows and management innovation in various ways – acting as both a bridge and barrier.

Given these developments, the current theme aims to direct attention towards the significance of a context of multiple occupations involved in shaping management and organisations, as well as of the often shifting and contested boundaries between them. The sub-theme aims to bring together and build bridges between scholars with an interest in specific management functions and occupations (e.g. Consulting, HR, IT, Accounting, Law, etc.), scholars interested in organizational change and development and scholars interested in the development and diffusion of management knowledge and innovations.

The following questions are indicative of the field of focus:

  • How do traditional 'boundary spanners' (such as consultants) respond to the rise of multiple management occupations including competition from new entrants (e.g. interim managers) and established occupations (e.g. IT)?
  • How do shifting occupational boundaries and identities enhance or inhibit the creation and flow of management knowledge and its translation into organizational change?
  • How do new management occupations (e.g. Corporate Social Responsibility) emerge, and how do they establish and protect their occupational spaces in the current era?
  • How is management being constituted in different contexts in relation to the distribution and cooperation of various occupational groups and their specific management practices?
  • What are the extent, nature and consequences of the "consultification" of management specialists?
  • How do multi-occupational interactions such as between internal and external management experts (e.g. Accounting, Finance, Law, HR?) and line managers take shape and play a role in creating and deploying management innovations and practices?
  • What are the consequences of multi-occupational work forms for the entrance of new occupational members, their career paths and movements between managerial and consulting roles?


Stefan Heusinkveld is Associate Professor at the VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands. His research focuses on the production and consumption of management ideas and in particular the role of management consultants and management gurus.
Andrew Sturdy is Professor of Organizational Behaviour at the University of Bristol, UK. His research and policy interests are on power, management consultancy and organisational change and his most recent book is "Management Consultancy" (with Handley, Clark and Fincham; Oxford University Press, 2009). He is currently researching the organisation and dynamics of internal consultancy.
Andreas Werr is Professor at the Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden, and the Head of its Centre for HRM and Knowledge Work. His research interests include management consultancy, the management of professional services and the nature and development of management knowledge.