By the same authors

Marketography? An Ethnographic Framing of Consultancy Markets

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review




ConferenceThe 12th Annual International Ethnography Symposium
CountryUnited Kingdom
Conference date(s)29/08/171/09/17

Publication details

DatePublished - 30 Aug 2017
Original languageEnglish


The critical consultancy literature tends to focus on the consultancy process, rather than end result (as it if often difficult to and less useful to measure the end result). The focus then tends to lie with what goes on during the process of consulting; how consulting operates. One way in which this is often explored is via a focus on consultant - client relationships whereby a number of studies frame the problem of consultancy practice as one of negotiations between human agents (consultants and clients) (for example Clark 1995; Clark and Fincham, 2002).

Such studies often take qualitative approaches such as interviews with consultants and clients (Sturdy and Wright, 2011), qualitative case studies of live consultancy projects (Fincham, Clark, Handley and Sturdy, 2008), and ethnographic observations of consultancy projects (Alvesson, Karreman, Sturdy and Handley, 2009).. We have seen a number of metaphors, narratives and discourses develop around consultants (such as Werr A. and Styhre A., 2002, Management Consultants- Friend or Foe?) as well as developments in understandings of power relations with clients (such as Alvesson, Karreman, Sturdy and Handley, 2009, Unpacking the client(s)). Other studies (such as Bloomfield and Best, 1992; Bloomfield and Danieli, 1995) and have shown how consultants frame problems with clients around pre-existing solutions and frame themselves as obligatory passage points in the process.

What we don't currently have, is an ethnographic account which offers the ‘specifics’ of the consultancy process as a market-based intervention of problems/solutions; of the consultancy market as a set of exchanges and industry politics. I propose that this is important as the current state of affairs is that the consulting market is not transparent/shared. Therefore by challenging the accepted methods and discourses in the consulting literature, this approach has the potential to reveal much that may still remain hidden or latent. What we stand to gain from this is an understanding of the laws of consultancy markets as heterogeneous agencements (Caliskan and Callon, 2010): how they operate, what rules are in place, what exchanges are made, what actors play a role, what politics and relations are present.

Further, what requires attention is not only questions related to ‘how do consultants and clients frame consulting markets?’ but also ‘how do ethnographers frame consulting markets?’ i.e. how do we come to talk about the consultancy market, its operations and relations? The objective/subjective dualism between ethnographer and ethnography of (the consulting market) needs challenging before we can start to answer these questions; i.e. marketographies as heterogeneous agencements too.

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