MICRO-Foundations of Encroachment in the Professional Service Sector

Monday, 11 July 2016: 15:05
Location: Hörsaal III (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Stefan KORBER, University of Auckland, New Zealand
Sociologists (e.g. Abbott, 1988; Goode, 1960) have long been interested in the struggle between professions over specific task domains and their attempts to create boundaries to related occupational groups to secure “privileges and opportunities to a restricted number of eligibles” (Parkin, 1979, p. 44). Some professions thereby continuously strive to cross those boundaries and to expand their jurisdiction when they move into areas of work that are occupied by adjacent professions (Rothman, 1984). Organisational scholars have identified professional service firms (PSFs) and their attempts to legitimise and institutionalise new ways of providing professional services as key actors in the process of jurisdictional expansion and institutional change (Muzio, Brock, & Suddaby, 2013; Suddaby & Greenwood, 2001). Large accountancy firms, for example, have been encroaching on the jurisdiction of the legal profession since the 1980s. This paper sheds more light on the micro-foundations of jurisdictional expansion in the professional service sector by exploring the mundane, day-to-day actions of professionals who are in the process of creating new service areas (within PSFs) that encroach the knowledge territory of other professions. Bridging intrapreneurship theory and the literature on institutional work, this paper identifies the dynamics and activities that take place when professionals challenge and undermine institutionalised behaviour guidelines in their efforts to explore and exploit opportunities outside professional boundaries. Methodologically, this is done by drawing on a single, longitudinal case study of an engineering firm that is currently in the process of diversifying into areas of professional work that are traditionally done by adjacent professions. The quasi-ethnographic approach of spending a prolonged time within the firm while new service areas unmerge and unfold offers unique insights that capture social action of professional activities and logics in their organisational and institutional context ‘in vivo and in situ’ (c.f. Smets & Reihlen, 2012; Lawrence, 2013).