Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

Small Is Beautiful? Emerging Organizational Strategies among Italian Professionals

Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

Small Is Beautiful? Emerging Organizational Strategies among Italian Professionals

Article excerpt

SOCIOLOGICAL DEBATE ON PROFESSIONS has traditionally viewed professionalism as an occupational strategy: unlike other occupations, professions constitute a differentiated means of organizing work and controlling workers based on peer control (Evetts 2011a; Freidson 2001). Defined as such, professionalism is inherently contradicted by the market and bureaucracy, which can be considered organizing logics that rely, respectively, on hierarchy and on consumer choice to exercise control (Evetts 2013; Freidson 2001). Consequently, the traditional debate on professional groups has more frequently focused on conflicts and trade-offs emerging within professional organizations, defined as bureaucratic forms organizing the work of professionals (Malhotra and Morris 2009; Noordegraaf 2011, 2016). These studies have primarily focused on professionals integrated into large firms or institutions (Faulconbridge and Muzio 2007; Malhotra and Morris 2009; Muzio et al. 2011; Schott, van Kleef, and Noordegraaf 2016), while relatively lesser attention has been paid to analyzing other forms of professional organizations (Cooper et al. 1996; Evetts 2011b; Leicht and Fennel 1997; Noordegraaf 2011).

This article will focus on an underinvestigated but emerging phenomenon, namely organizational trends based on solidarity mechanisms and intra- and interprofessionals networking among self-employed professionals. Specifically, it will consider the condition of architects and management consultants in Italy, where historically self-employed professionals have extensively promoted professional partnerships between colleagues (in the form of associated firms), but new organizational trends are emerging today in order to overcome challenges originated by market crisis and welfare austerity. Architects and consultants in Italy, although starting from a different regulatory condition and different market situations, are increasingly interested in organizational forms that go beyond the traditional model of professional partnerships. Flexible organizational structures seem to respond better to their needs in terms of social protection, both in terms of vulnerability associated with lifecycle events (maternity leave, care leave, illness, and pensions, etc.) and providing protection against loss of wages as a result of market crisis (Cucca and Maestripieri 2014). These organizations also constitute a way to signal professionalism in the market (Evetts 2011a), considering the reduced role of professional associations. These trends are particularly important, as they have been executed bottom-up by professionals, as the institutional crisis of the Italian system of professions has become more and more evident. On the one side, liberal professionals, such as architects, are increasingly exposed to market pressure as the traditional mechanisms of social closure begin to crumble. On the other side, management consultants undertake their professional activities in the absence of any clear regulation of the market (Cucca and Maestripieri 2014).

The scope of the article includes an investigation of how small, loosely formed, organizations are becoming tools for overcoming market pressures in the case of self-employed professionals. The originality of the investigation lies in the research design, which consists of a comparison between a liberal profession (architecture) and an emerging profession (management consultancy). It is distinctive as it involves an intercomparison analysis of organizational practices (Malhotra and Morris 2009), while studies of professional groups in the domain of sociology have typically relied upon single-sector investigations. By contrast, this interprofessional comparison stresses the differences between professionals beyond their initial diversity in terms of institutionalization. Indeed, the results of the investigation show that tendencies in organizing professionalism are transversal trends that equate architects and consultants. …

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