Professions, organizations and the state: Applying the sociology of the professions to the case of management consultancy

Daniel Muzio*, Ian Kirkpatrick, Matthias Kipping

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the recent literature on knowledge-based occupations it is frequently noted that some groups, such as management consultants, have been far less successful than others in developing a system of professional regulation and organization. This is generally attributed to the functional characteristics of their knowledge base, which is too elusive, fuzzy and perishable to sustain traditional professionalization projects. It is also suggested that these groups have little interest in becoming professions and have relied instead on alternative occupational strategies. In this article, drawing on a range of secondary sources, the authors highlight certain limitations of this account and offer an alternative. Focusing on the historical development of professional associations in the context of management consulting in the UK, the authors illustrate the role played by the state and large firms in undermining efforts to professionalize. A key contribution of the article is to highlight the need for a more inclusive approach to understanding why new knowledge-based occupations have failed to professionalize, one that gives more weight to the historical context and the role played by other key actors in shaping change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)805-824
Number of pages20
JournalCurrent Sociology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011


  • management consultancy
  • professional services firms
  • professionalism
  • professionalization

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