Play to the Rules: Managerialism, Neo-Liberalism and the Sociology of Professions

Wednesday, 13 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 17 (Juridicum)
Distributed Paper
Fran OSRECKI, University of Osnabrueck, Germany
In modern sociology the term neo-liberalism describes very diverse and sometimes incompatible developments. Largely used by its critics, the term is ascribed to the shrinking of the welfare state, the rise of global free-trade arrangements, the privatization of public goods and the introduction of markets in hitherto protected fields. However, the term is also used in relation to managerialism, i.e. the import of methods of business administration in organizational settings that have been dominated by professional self-regulation: health care, education, public administration etc. In this presentation, it is argued that neo-liberalism and managerialism form two very distinct logics of reform, the latter being centered around the vision of making professional practice not only more cost-efficient, but also, if not primarily, making it more accountable in terms of enforcing professional rules and standards as strictly as possible to enable (often formalized and quantified) lay control. In fact, the lack of accountability and transparency is a critique shared by both managerialist reformers and scholars influenced by the “power approach” in the sociology of professions. Thus, it is argued that the “audit explosion” (Michael Power) in professional work was to some degree enabled by social scientists critical of professional autonomy. This rarely explored coalition is meanwhile critically reflected in the sociology of professions, especially by researchers who highlight the unintended consequences of auditing and formalized mechanisms of transparency in professional practice. Yet, a model of limits of lay control in professional practice is still missing. To fill this gap, the organizational concept of “functional deviance” is presented. This somewhat neglected concept shows that there are necessary limits of operational control in organizations and that the sociology of professions should in more detail discuss limits of rule following and lay control in professional settings.