Professionalization at work : the case of Italian management consultants

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Professionalization is one of the most ancient and popular issues in the sociology of the professions. Starting from the seminal article of Harold Wilensky (1964), scholars have extensively debated on which are the criteria to identify professionals, usually focusing on liberal professions. However, in recent years, post-industrial trends have transformed the character of the labour force dramatically and new groups have raised demands for professionalism going beyond this model. Such a dilemma raises a new interest on the topic: the paper, instead of applying the liberal professional model assumed to be an a- historical standard, will face the problem by analysing the challenges facing knowledge workers' seeking to legitimize their professional status. In this paper, I address this issue through an in-depth analysis of Arianna's account, a female management consultant, using the technique of positioning. The interview with Arianna reveals the strategies and argumentative referents of a freelance management consultant who chooses to stress her professionalism. It presents the role of personal networks, on- the-job training, and market success as evidence to classify who is professional and who is not, but also to explain how she uses their competencies and market experience as the basis of her claim to professionalism. Using Arianna's interview as an emblematic example, this paper argues that management consultants are trying to establish professional status based on a process of professionalization, albeit an innovative one that does not pursue public regulation nor the mediation of intermediate bodies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-54
Number of pages22
JournalEphemera: theory and politics in organization
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Professionalization
  • Professions
  • Knowledge workers
  • Positioning
  • Management consultancy


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