Table of Contents

Perspectives on Contemporary Professional Work

Perspectives on Contemporary Professional Work

Challenges and Experiences

New Horizons in Management series

Edited by Adrian Wilkinson, Donald Hislop and Christine Coupland

How is the world of professions and professional work changing? This book offers both an overview of current debates surrounding the nature of professional work, and the implications for change brought about by the managerialist agenda. The relationships professionals have with their organizations are variable, indeterminate and uncertain, and there is still debate over the ways in which these should be characterized and theorized. The contributors discuss these implications with topics including hybrid organizations and hybrid professionalism; the changing nature of professional and managerial work; profession and identity; and the emergence of HRM as a new managerial profession.

Chapter 5: Discourses of professional work

Christine Coupland

Subjects: business and management, human resource management, organisational behaviour


For some considerable time, since Hughes (1958), the academic study of professions has been concerned with definitional questions. Generally speaking when determining the difference between occupations and professions it is widely understood that they differ by degree rather than kind of activity (see Evetts, 2006). They both organize work practices and individuals, and both assume and communicate that they can legitimately determine what is good and appropriate for their members and thus determine appropriate ways of thinking about problems that fall within their domain (Dingwall and Lewis, 1983). There is a prevailing interest in how and by what practices members of professions and occupations control the work and workers who fall within their remit. One analytic perspective on this issue attends to how language and discourse construct the role, identities and domains of control of the professions. Written and spoken texts and non-verbal behaviours have been important in the historical creation of professional practices and they continue to reproduce and reconstruct the reshaping of these practices. Although the professions and their constitutive efforts are well established, interest in discourses of professional work is relatively recent but attracting growing attention from practitioners and academics alike. The term ‘professional discourses’ utilized in this chapter is taken to mean text and talk in professional contexts for professional purposes. It includes an exploration of empirical studies of talk of at least one professional either to other professionals or to other members of society.

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