Sub-theme 08: [SWG] Professional Wrongdoing: Governance and Regulation

Claudia Gabbioneta
Newcastle University, United Kingdom
Frida Pemer
Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden
Andrew Sturdy
University of Bristol, United Kingdom

Call for Papers

While organization studies has always had some critical edge, it has not always been as concerned with how the problems it identifies are addressed through governance. Organizational wrongdoing and, within that, professional malpractice is typically introduced through reference to various public scandals, often initially revealed by the media, rather than academics. As a result, there is a tendency to view wrongdoing as aberrant rather than normal, i.e., as something anyone might carry out, and that is a product of wider systems and structures such as mis-selling (Palmer, 2012). Furthermore, the traditional association of governance with the state or professional self-regulation has hidden wrongdoing away from the gaze of organization studies. In recent times, this has changed, with organization studies becoming (slightly) more engaged with politics (cf. Fleming, 2019) and governance becoming understood more broadly as ‘systems of steering society’ where the state or professional associations are just examples of many governing actors in diverse relationships (Kourua et al., 2019, p. 1104). In addition, boundaries between sub-disciplines such as organization studies, critical management studies, public administration and policy/political studies are breaking down to the extent that governance becomes more of a concern (Corporate Reform Collective, 2014; Pemer & Skjølsvik, 2018; Tyllstrom, 2019).
Given this emerging and multifaceted interest in the governance of professional wrongdoing, the focus of this sub-theme will be on identifying the antecedents, nature, consequences and governance of professional wrongdoing. Particular emphasis will be placed on the intersection of different levels of analysis: individual (dispositions and actions of individual professionals and clients), organizations (the strategies, cultures and systems of professional and client organizations) and ecological (the relationship between organizations and individuals across a number of distinct practice boundaries) as well as a consideration of broader socio-economic and institutional contexts (Muzio et al., 2016). In addition, as different legal and professional practices are to be found in Anglo-American and continental European regimes, comparative work will be especially welcomed. Finally, attention will be given to policy as well as theoretical concerns such as how new forms and technologies of regulation and governance (e.g., ‘reg-tech’) more generally can be developed to address emerging challenges around citizen/employee participation, multi-organizational partnerships, new technology and transnational spaces (Vogelpohl, 2018).
The sub-theme will combine elements of organization theory with policy and practice. It will also bring together historical studies of professions with contemporary and cross-national research and open up to the links between organization studies, other management disciplines such as accounting, purchasing and business ethics, and other fields including public administration, sociology, geography and legal, political and policy studies. Given the emerging and multi-disciplinary nature of our concerns we are open to a range of different methodologies and theoretical perspectives.
The following questions are indicative of our concerns, but not meant to limit other approaches to the topic:

  • Why do professionals and professional organizations engage in misconduct? How do different explanations (i.e., individual-level, organizational-level, field-level, and societal) combine to explain misconduct?

  • How is professional misconduct affected by the fact that professional work is becoming increasingly more multi-disciplinary, international, and client-centric?

  • To what extent is professional misconduct distinct from that in other occupations, and from organizational wrongdoing?

  • As new regulatory voids emerge (e.g. from transnational networks and practices, and new technology), what implications do they have for wrongdoing, governance and citizen participation and inclusivity?

  • How can traditional dilemmas around governance and accountability (e.g. hard/soft regulation; state/self-regulation; targets versus narrative accountability; transactional versus relational purchasing) be addressed in policy options for organizations, governments and individuals?

  • How can historical and national comparative study help us understand the practice and governance of professional wrongdoing? How does wrongdoing vary in different institutional and economic regimes and what can we learn from this in policy terms?

  • How is wrongdoing defined and constructed and by whom? Who are the regulators and how are they organized and with what effects?

  • What is the role of academics and other actors (e.g., social-control agents, Greve et al., 2010) in engaging in the politics of governance and of helping to define what is right and wrong?

  • What is the nature of academic wrongdoing and how does this relate to professional practice more widely?

  • How does the increased use of digital technologies in professional work affect professional malpractice and wrongdoing? How are new digital technologies for governance (e.g., ‘reg-tech’) used in different professions to prevent and detect professional wrongdoing, and what new work practices do they lead to?



  • Corporate Reform Collective (2014): Fighting Corporate Abuse. London: Pluto.
  • Fleming, P. (2019): “Robots and organization studies: Why robots might not want to steal your job.” Organization Studies, 40 (1), 23–38.
  • Kourula, A., Moon, J., Salles-Djelic, M.-L., & Wickert, C. (2019): “New roles of government in the governance of business conduct: Implications for management and organizational research.” Organization Studies, 40 (8), 1101–1124.
  • Muzio, D., Faulconbridge, J., Gabbioneta, C., & Greenwood, R. (2016): “Bad apples, bad barrels and bad cellars: A 'boundaries' perspective on professional misconduct.” In: D. Palmer, R. Greenwood & K. Smith-Crowe (eds.): Organizational Wrongdoing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 141–175.
  • Palmer, D. (2012): Normal Organizational Wrongdoing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Pemer, F., & Skjølsvik, T. (2018): “Adopt or adapt? Unpacking the role of institutional work processes in the implementation of new regulations.” Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 28 (1), 138–154.
  • Tyllstrom, A. (2019): “More than a revolving door: Corporate lobbying and the socialization of institutional carriers.” Organization Studies, first published online on May 30, 2019:
  • Vogelpohl, A. (2018): “Consulting as a threat to local democracy? Flexible management consultants, pacified citizens, and political tactics of strategic development in German cities.” Urban Geography, 39 (9), 1345–1365.
Claudia Gabbioneta is a Senior Lecturer in Accounting at Newcastle University Business School, United Kingdom. She has done research on professions and organizational wrongdoing for years and has recently co-edited a special issue in ‘Human Relations’ on “Inserting professionals and professional organizations in studies of wrongdoing: the nature, antecedents, and consequences of professional misconduct”. Claudia is Senior Editor of ‘Organization Studies’ and Consulting Editor of the ‘Journal of Professions and Organization’ and sits on the Editorial Board of the ‘Journal of Management Studies’.
Frida Pemer is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Management and Organization at the Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden. Her research centers on professional services and she leads a research project on “Digitalization of Expertise”, exploring how professions transform as tasks previously reserved for human experts increasingly can be automated/performed by AI. Frida has published her work in leading journals such as ‘Human Relations’, ‘Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory’, and ‘Journal of Professions and Organizations’.
Andrew Sturdy is Professor of Management and Organization at the University of Bristol, United Kingdom, and a Visiting Professor at VU Amsterdam, The Netherlands. His research and policy interests are mainly around management ideas and consultancy, and his latest book (co-edited) is the “Oxford Handbook of Management Ideas” (Oxford University Press). Andrew has successful editorial experience with books, journal special issues (‘Human Relations’, ‘Management Learning’, ‘Organization’, and ‘Scandinavian Journal of Management’) and as current Associate Editor of the ‘Journal of Management Inquiry’.