Sub-theme 62: Professional Work(ers): Past, Present, and Future/s

Sumati Ahuja
University of Technology Sydney, Australia
Andrew Sturdy
University of Bristol, United Kingdom
Lucie Noury
Audencia Business School, France

Call for Papers

Professionals are increasingly required to work across occupational boundaries which involves an array of resources beyond their specialized knowledge and expertise. In this milieu, professional ideologies (O’Mahoney & Sturdy, 2016), identities (Ahuja et al., 2017), values (Fayard et al., 2017) and relationships (Huising, 2015) provide important resources that enable actors to continue to work with some sense of autonomy and authority in relation to new technologies, project demands and managerial pressures. At the same time, there has been a significant growth in ‘new’ occupations such as consultancy and other corporate professions (Hodgson et al., 2015) and the role of procurement and outsourcing in general (Furusten, 2018), thus transforming the social organization of this form of work. In addition, the application of artificial intelligence (AI) and related technologies is transforming the way that value is created and captured in professional services. All of this raises crucial questions about changing forms of organizing, structures of employment and how these changes impact experiences of workers (McKinsey Global Institute, 2018) and the social order that shapes and is created by work (Barley et al., 2017; McKinsey Global Institute, 2017).

In an era characterized by forces of de-/re-professionalization, jurisdictional disputes and value displacement (Lepisto et al., 2015), exclusive claims to expert knowledge and skills are in need of revision. On one end of the spectrum, research into the corporatization of professionals (Paton et al., 2013) suggests that for professional workers embedded in large neo-bureaucratic organizations - professional practices, identities and jurisdictional boundaries are increasingly being redefined by the expectations of stakeholders, including managers and customers (e.g. the rise and dominance of multidisciplinary professional service firms and ‘social responsibility’). Although autonomy, collegiality and authority have long been described by sociologists as the hallmarks of professional work, the co-dependencies between experts and the increasingly complex, neo-bureaucratic organizations within which they work have generated hybrid roles in which professionals take on administrative positions to coordinate between professional and organizational activities (Waring, 2014). Yet, despite these changes, different groups such as women struggle to ‘fit’ the prevailing models of success in professional service firms (Kumra & Vinnicombe, 2008) i.e., embody masculine, western traits such as assertiveness and confidence while also being able to ‘self-monitor’ their behavior in gender-conforming ways (Ballakrishnan, 2017), raising questions about the future trajectory of professional occupations and organizations (Muzio et al., 2019).
At the other end of the spectrum, the economies of scale and the mass-production of professional services, enabled in particular by new technologies such as AI, requires a ‘non-professional’ workforce. Such a workforce is typically hired on a temporary basis, off-shore and/or for low wages because their work relies on expert technologies rather than their professional training (Galperin, 2017). The routinization, mass-production and even automation of professional services (Armour & Sako, 2020) indicate a trend away from bespoke professional services and a bypassing of professionals and a blurring of boundaries between professions and organizations as well as generating new geo-political dynamics including the phenomenon of deglobalization (Farndale et al., 2021).
Relatedly, occupational careers are increasingly in flux generating insecurities and anxieties in everyday lived experiences of work and hybrid working. Changes in organizational structures and technologies such as the growth of project-based work means that contract workers are constantly faced with the problem of finding a job without prior experience, threatening the relevance of a traditional career, and presenting new forms of work intensification. This is particularly the case as digitalization enables the rise of new ways of organizing work through platforms, networks or virtual firms (Smets et al., 2017).
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 work in its broadest sense. How do these processes become a site for developing new ideologies, identities, relationships, and values? How are such futures constructed discursively and otherwise and with what wider consequences? How do new ways of working affect the experience of workers and their sense of well-being?
We invite contributions that focus on a wide range of issues, including, but not limiting to, the following:
At the level of professional occupations and their associations:

  • How does the future of professional work fit the wider discourse of the ‘future of work’? To what extent are professionals involved in its construction?

  • What is the role of professions in shaping and addressing contemporary grand challenges?

  • What are the effects of ongoing changes in regulatory approaches to well established professions as well as new expert fields?

At the level of the professional service firms:

  • How are new organizational forms impacting professional work practices, expertise, careers, and relationships with clients?

  • What is the effect of commercial and normative imperatives (e.g., social responsibility/ethics) on the nature and use of expertise in PSFs?

  • What new and established inequalities are emerging in new work forms?

At the level of professional workers:

  • How does professional work compare with other forms of work in contemporary contexts, how distinctive is it?

  • How is the development of new technologies such as AI redefining professional practice and identity and vice versa? What is the impact on individual well-being?

  • What are the processes of identification and strategies to cope with shifting identities in the professional context?



  • Ahuja, S., Nikolova, N., & Clegg, S. (2017): “Paradoxical Identity: The Changing Nature of Architectural Work and its Relation to Architects' Identity.” Journal of Professions and Organization, 4 (1), 2–19.
  • Armour, J., & Sako, M. (2020): “AI-enabled Business Models in Legal Services: From Traditional Law Firms to Next-generation Law Companies.” Journal of Professions and Organization, 7, 27–46.
  • Ballakrishnan, S. (2017): “‘She Gets the Job Done’: Entrenched Gender Meanings and New Returns to Essentialism in India’s Elite Professional Firms.” Journal of Professions and Organization, 4 (3), 324–342.
  • Barley, S., Bechky, B., & Milliken, F. (2017): “The Changing Nature of Work: Careers, Identities, and Work Lives in the 21st Century.” Academy of Management Discoveries, 3 (2), 111–115.
  • Farndale, E., Thite, M., Budhwar, P., & Kwon, B. (2021): “Deglobalization and talent sourcing: Cross-national evidence from high-tech firms.” Human Resource Management, 60 (2), 259–272.
  • Fayard, A., Stiliani, I., & Bechky, B. (2017): “How Nascent Occupations Construct a Mandate: The Case of Service Designers’ Ethos.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 62 (2), 270–303.
  • 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, 223–231.
  • Galperin, R. (2017): “Mass-Production of Professional Services and Pseudo-Professional Identity in Tax Preparation Work.” Academy of Management Discoveries, 3 (2), 208–229.
  • 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 (1), 745–759.
  • Huising, R. (2015): “To Hive or to Hold? Producing Professional Authority through Scut Work.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 60 (2), 263–299.
  • Kumra, S., & Vinnicombe, S. (2008): “A Study of the Promotion to Partner Process in a Professional Service Firm: How Women are Disadvantaged.” British Journal of Management, 19 (S1), 65–74.
  • Lepisto, D., Crosina, E., & Pratt, M. (2015): “Identity Work within and Beyond the Professions: Towards a Theoretical Integration and Extension.” In: A. Costa e Silva & M. Aparicio (eds.): International Handbook of Professional Identities. Rosemead: Scientific & Academic Publishing, 11–37.
  • McKinsey Global Institute (2017): “Jobs lost, jobs gained: what the future of work will mean for jobs, skills, and wages.” McKinsey & Company, November 28, 2017; available at:
  • McKinsey Global Institute (2018): “Skill shift: Automation and the future of the workforce.” McKinsey & Company, May 23, 2018; available at:
  • Muzio, D., Aulakh, S., & Kirkpatrick, I. (2019): Professional Occupations and Organizations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • O’Mahoney, J., & Sturdy, A. (2016): “Power and the Diffusion of Management Ideas: The case of McKinsey & Co.” Management Learning, 47 (3), 274–265.
  • Paton, S., Hodgson, D., & Muzio, D. (2013): “The Price of Corporate Professionalisation: Analysing the Corporate Capture of Professions in the UK.” New Technology, Work and Employment, 28 (3), 227–240.
  • Smets, M., Morris, T., von Nordenflycht, A., & Brock, D.M. (2017): “25 years since ‘P2’: Taking stock and charting the future of professional firms.” Journal of Professions and Organization, 4 (2), 91–111.
  • Waring, J. (2014): “Restratification, Hybridity and professional Elites: Questions of Power, Identity and Relational Contingency at the Points of ‘Professional-Organisational Intersection’.” Sociology Compass, 8 (5), 688–704.
Sumati Ahuja is Senior Lecturer of Management at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Business School, Australia. Her research focuses on the changing nature of professional work and the experiences of professionals’ as they adapt to their changing environments.
Andrew Sturdy is Professor of Organisation and Management at the University of Bristol, UK. He has an interest in professional occupations and work and was Associate Editor of the ‘Journal of Management Inquiry.’
Lucie Noury is Assistant Professor of Management at Audencia Business School, France. Her research focuses on the contemporary evolutions of professional work and of the organization of professional service firms.