Global professional service firms and institutionalization

James Faulconbridge, Daniel Muzio

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The global professional service firm (GPSF) is now a significant agent in national and transnational political economies. Yet, in existing literatures on transnational governance the role of these firms is somewhat hidden by a tendency to place the professions at centre stage. Thus, whilst the literature recognizes how ‘the professions in modern society have assumed leading roles in the creation and tending of institution’ (Scott, 2008: 219), there has been less systematic attention to the role of GPSFs as institutional agents. In part this can be explained by the fact that the sociology of the professions traditionally does not recognize the analytically distinct nature or role of professional organizations within professionalization and broader institutionalization projects (Faulconbridge and Muzio, 2012). Yet, such a state of affairs no longer seems tenable. GPSFs have their own agendas, capabilities and patterns of activities that are both related to but also distinct from those of the wider professional communities to which they belong (see Faulconbridge and Muzio 2016). From prominent and politically charged cases such as the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) (Arnold, 2005) and carbon trading markets (Knox-Hayes, 2009), to less-well reported and softer systems such as regimes around sustainable building design (Bulkeley and Jordan, 2012; Faulconbridge, 2013) and competition (antitrust) agreements (Morgan, 2006), GPSFs have been central actors in ‘issue control’processes (Seabrooke and Henriksen, Chapter 1). Such compacts are of course important for those actors directly engaged in the issues in question. Perhaps more importantly, though, they also matter because, as Suddaby and Viale (2011) argue, through their actions GPSFs have wider spin-off effects on adjacent fields, whether that is the development of employment law as a result of trade agreements or property financing as a result of sustainable design regimes. In this chapter we, thus, seek to highlight the importance of advancing the work that does exist on GPSFs in the institutionalization of transnational governance regimes through a more careful consideration of the identities, projects and effects of the firms in question. We contend that in their attempts to develop new markets, services and more efficient internal organizational models, GPSFs exercise far-reaching institutional effects as they challenge governance regimes, disrupt/create jurisdictions, and transform identities, practices and systems of regulation in the professions themselves.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProfessional Networks in Transnational Governance
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781316855508
ISBN (Print)9781107181878
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017

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