Incorporating Business Professions; Communication,Governmentality, and Epistemic Arbitrage

Saturday, 4 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
CLM.3.07 (Clement House)
Ray Loveridge, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom
Accountancy and law and their extended activity in international consultancy and governance have become an important focus of study across MOT, economic sociology and political-economy. Of particular interest has been their role in   shaping international regulatory standards at macro and micro-levels;

i)                    at macro-level in the expanding and changing standard-setting activity of Post-WW2 international (canopy) governance agencies and in the regulative creation of privatized markets by national governments; at micro-level as consultants, brokers and arbitrators in the shaping of relationships between client TNCs across networks and value/wealth chains, in modes of regulatory arbitrage and in facilitating cross-national ownership. In doing so they have transported, translated and interpreted regulatory standards across spacially and culturally remote situations and events. 

ii)                  These activities have been accompanied by elite attempts to move from an institutionalized mode of partnership organization to one that incorporates, bureaucratises, and often attempts to  integrate occupational disciplines in the ‘global business advisory firm’,  more latterly labelled, ‘global professional service firm’ (GPSF). Existent corporate reputations combined with territorial and disciplinary spreads have favoured elite firms. A concentration of ownership through M&A and dispersal of organization along production chains has provided increasing presence and capacity.

iii)                Public and scholarly concern is expressed around the extent to which the role of ‘gate-keeper’, interpreter, auditor, and arbitrator of standards combines with client political lobbying and consultancy in business and government. Threats to GPSF vocational status and legitimacy appear in constantly reported scandals but its market reputation seems undiminished. Concern has also been shown over its shaping of international standard-setting towards that characterising LME capitalism.

Of perhaps a half-million practitioners across 195 countries a handful of the largest firms receive significant scholarly attention.  The extent and expansion of their market oligopoly and oligarchic position in dominant national and international associations is evident. Occasionally this is challenged, but the exemplary success of the GPSF as an archetypical template has promoted its wider adoption. Accumulated studies suggest that the structural and symbolic significance of elite firms constitutes an ‘asteroid belt’ (Greenwood 2008) embedded within a distantiated level of regulatory governance. This appears to provide a capacity to contain and shape both ‘trickle-up’ and ‘trickle-down’ changes in the interpretation and translation of international rules and standards (Djelic and Quack 2003, Faulconbridge and Muzio 2011).

Contextual pressures are also perceived in the post-2008 down-turn and rationalization of Western corporate demand for professional services, complemented by an over-supply of new graduates.  Applied-academics (egs Gardner, 2012; Christensen et al 2013) use terms reminiscent of 1980-90s changes in manufacturing egs- flexible specialisms, team-working, off-shored supply-chains, net-worked alliances.  They indicate structural changes within vocational careers of wider consequence than a mere managerial archetype. They suggest socio-economically stratified communities and distributed- agencies (Quack 2007) as socially remote as those that shaped recent innovation in global financial trading (Engelen et al 2012). I will draw on Faulconbridge and Muzio’s rescaled neo-Weberian frame  and Seabrooke’s (2014) concept of epistemic arbitrage to explore strategies of appropriative learning in regulatory-governance (Loveridge 1990).

Bibliography can be provided.