Sub-theme 43: Professional or Commercialized Expertise? The Consequences of Changing Sources of Advice for Public Organizational Performance and Policy Making ---> MERGED with sub-theme 48


Call for Papers

In recent decades we have seen a significant growth in the number and fields of experts offering services to organizations, especially externally, but there are very few management and organization studies that explore this phenomenon and its consequences for organizations and democratic societies (Furusten & Werr, 2017). Attention has been given to the rise of occupations such as consultancy and other corporate professions (Hodgson et al., 2015) and of the role of procurement and outsourcing in general (Furusten, 2018). A number of studies have also emphasized the struggle in established occupational fields between professionalism and commercialism (e.g. Grey, 1998; Brint, 1994). So far, however, less focus has been directed to the consequences for organizations and society of the rise in numbers of various cadres of commercially oriented “professionals” acting as expert advisors.
Such a neglect is surprising for a number of reasons. Firstly, in the public sector especially, where there are often traditions of pursuing non-commercial, democratic or bureaucratic logics, a shift to external and highly marketized expertise has been controversial (Tomo, 2018). Of course, the established professions have always had occupational interests, including commercial ones, which might conflict with those of their clients (Johnson, 1972). However, the decline in internal staff numbers (including ‘staff professionals’) and the rise in new professions where competition or commercial imperatives are more intense, has led some to claim that performance declines and democratic decision making is undermined (Craig & Brooks, 2006; Kirkpatrick et al., 2019). This is most evident in the notion of ‘consultocracy’ which has been the focus of research in policy studies and politics, but not organization studies. Here, the outcomes claimed include the monopolization and privatization of knowledge, a weakening of accountability and strengthening of instrumental rationality (Ylonen & Kuusela, 2018).
Relatedly and secondly, the neglect is surprising in that in the changing nature of advice has been a focus of research in policy studies and politics for some time. Indeed, the concept of policy advisory systems in different nations recently celebrated its 30th year. Here the externalization and de-/politicization of advice to governments has been a concern, as well as mapping the different actors and changes therein (Craft & Halligan, 2017; OECD 2017; Sturdy, 2018; see also Campbell & Pedersen, 2014, on knowledge regimes; Garsten & Sörbom, 2017, on think tanks). In the context of management and organization studies, the focus on advice is more implicit, reflected in concerns with (internal) issue selling and, in particular, knowledge flow. Here, there is some recognition of management knowledge systems which map the different actors and relations between them (e.g., Suddaby & Greenwood, 2001; Engwall et al., 2016) and similarly with occupations (Reed, 1996), but there is little attention to the outcomes. Thus, we might learn from policy and political studies theoretically, but we also need to understand the empirical context.
In the audit society and new public management movements, the role of traditional as well as of new “professionals” has changed. Auditors are required for not only scrutiny of finances in organizations, but for quality assessment and sustainability reporting, and other experts are called in to support with strategy development and diverse ‘business’ issues (Furusten & Werr, 2017). Today we see, for example, healthcare organizations that put great trust in consultants and management concepts such as “value-based health care”. We see politicians hiring McKinsey & Co to suggest national strategies for primary schools, we see universities hiring trademark experts in management control, human resource management and leadership. We also see corporations and associations putting great trust in analyses and advice from various categories of commercially operating “professional” service providers. Who is trusted and seen as credible and legitimate is changing, and with it, elites, especially in transnational domains where regulation may be more fluid (Seabroke & Tsingou, 2015; Wedel, 2017; Furusten & Werr, 2017).
While processes of change, on the one hand, could provide opportunities for positive growth and expansion, the above mentioned processes could also produce negative consequences (O’Mahoney & Sturdy, 2016). For instance, the repeated scandals related to the collapses of relevant corporations (e.g. Enron, WorldCom, Parmalat) raised questions about the integrity of the accounting profession and on how the audit work is carried out by the Big Four accounting firms with no substantial penalties (Carnegie & Napier, 2010; Willmott & Sikka, 1997), as well as for the corporate governance structures and managerial competence in these organizations. A current example is the heavily critizised use of consultants in processes behind building, planning and running a new public university hospital in Stockholm where it is argued that international consultants have had greater influence in the processes and forming the new professional practice than local medical professionals or politicians – consultocracy in action? Are professional values only a façade to the development of commercial logics and what are the consequences for ethics and efficiency?
We invite critical and constructive papers that theorize or study empirically the processes through which individuals and organizations react, resist, engage, or cope with, the transformation of “professional knowledge” to commercial expertise and/or its externalization. How do these processes become a site for developing a more responsible, democratic and sustainable future for external commercialized professionals on the one hand and systems of governance, management and internal professionals in organizations on the other.
We invite contributions that focus on a wide range of issues, including, but not limiting to, the following:

  • Comparing the outcomes of internal and external professional advice

  • The effect of commercial imperatives on the nature and use of expertise in PSFs

  • Dynamics of power, acts of resistance and reaction in organizations “consuming” commercialized “professional” services

  • The effects of ongoing changes in regulatory approaches to as well established professions as new expert fields

  • The challenges for knowledge “consumers” and providers from the struggle between commercial and professional values

  • Processes of identification and strategies to cope with shifting identities in the professional context

  • How to develop accountable, democratic and/or sustainable models for professionalism and advice giving

  • Bridging studies from policy and politics with those in management and organizational studies

  • The role of professional associations and engagement with the transformation of professional values in these challenging (new) contexts

  • Historical and cross-national studies of management (and policy) advice regimes

  • The rise of experts in management, leadership, strategy, sustainability, recruiting, and the like, where traditional understandings of professional organization are absent or translated



  • Brint, S. (1994): In a Age of Experts. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Campbell, J.L., & Pedersen, O.K. (2014): “Knowledge Regimes and the  National Origins of Policy Ideas.” In: J.L. Campbell & O.K. Pedersen: The National Origins of Policy Ideas. Knowledge Regimes in the United States, France, Germany, and Denmark. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, chapter 1.
  • Carnegie, G.D., & Napier, C.J. (2010): “Traditional accountants and business professionals: Portraying the accounting profession after Enron.” Accounting, Organizations and Society, 35 (3), 360–376.
  • Craft, J., & Halligan, J. (2017): “Assessing 30 years of Westminster policy advisory system experience.” Policy Sciences, 50 (1), 47–62.
  • Craig, D., & Brooks, R. (2006): Plundering the Public Sector. London: Constable.
  • Engwall, L., Üsdiken, B., & Kipping, M. (2016): Defining Management. Business Schools, Consultants, Media. New York: Routledge.
  • Furusten, S. (2018): “Handling Opposing Market Logics. Public Procurement in Practice.” In: N. Brunsson & M. Jutterström (eds.): Organizing and Reorganizing Markets. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 221–231.
  • Furusten, S., & Werr, A. (2017): The Organization of the Expert Society. New York: Routledge.
  • Garsten, C., & Sörbom, A. (eds.) (2017): Power, Policy and Profit. Corporate Engagement in Politics and Governance. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.
  • Grey, C. (1998): “On being a professional in a ‘big six’ firm.” Accounting, Organizations and Society, 23 (5/6), 569–587.
  • Hodgson, D., Paton, S., & Muzio, D. (2015): “Something old, something new? Competing logics and the hybrid nature of new corporate professions.” British Journal of Management, 26 (4), 745–759.
  • Johnson, T.J. (1972): Professions and Power. London: Routledge
  • Kirkpatrick, I., Sturdy, A., Reguera Alvarado, N., Blanco-Oliver, A., & Veronesi, G. (2019): “The impact of management consultants on public service efficiency.” Policy & Politics, 47 (1), 77–96.
  • O’Mahoney, J., & Sturdy, A. (2016): “Power and the diffusion of management ideas: The case of McKinsey & Co.” Management Learning, 47 (3), 247–265.
  • OECD (2017): Policy Advisory Systems: Supporting Good Governance and Sound Public Decision Making. OECD Public Governance Reviews. Paris: OECD Publishing.
  • Reed, M.I. (1996): “Expert Power and Control in Late Modernity: An Empirical Review and Theoretical Synthesis.” Organization Studies, (17) 4, 573–597.
  • Seabrooke, L., & Tsingou, E. (2015): “Professional emergence on transnational issues: Linked ecologies on demographic change.” Journal of Professions and Organization, 2 (1), 1–18.
  • Sturdy, A. (2018): “Promoting solutions and co-constructing problems – management consultancy and instrument constituencies.” Policy and Society, 37 (1), 74–89.
  • Suddaby, R., & Greenwood, R. (2001): “Colonizing knowledge: Commodification as a dynamic of jurisdictional expansion in professional service firms.” Human Relations, 54 (7), 933–953.
  • Tomo, A. (2018): Managerialism in the Public Sector. Perspectives and Prospects. London: Routledge-Giappichelli.
  • Wedel, J.R. (2017): “From power elites to influence elites: Resetting elite studies for the 21st century.” Theory, Culture & Society, 34 (5–6), 153–178.
  • Willmott, H.C., & Sikka, P. (1997): “On the commercialization of accountancy thesis: A review essay.” Accounting, Organizations and Society, 22 (8), 831–842.
  • Ylönen, M., & Kuusela, H. (2018): “Consultocracy and its discontents: A critical typology and a call for a research agenda.” Governance, 32 (2), 241–258.