Digitalisation and Professionalism

Saturday, June 25, 2016: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
234 Dwinelle (Dwinelle Hall)
Esther Ruiz Ben, Technische Universitaet Berlin, Berlin, Germany
The worldwide diffusion of digital technologies and the decline in the cost of media distribution has led to a rapid expansion of information sharing, networking and self categorization of web content by the wide public. Traditional hierarchy of information spread by experts is replaced by web users online categorizations often aided by search virtual machines. These developments can lead to disruptive innovations in the professional projects as well as to their splitting in diverse projects. Moreover, the participatory potential of digital technologies alters the relation between practitioners and their clients. Due to the clients' online access to some information that traditionally was restricted for experts, the experts become increasingly exposed. Thus, professionals' autonomy become threatened by the increasing diffusion of former exclusive knowledge, but also by new forms of neo-bureaucratic control forms of work through surveillance, social media, etc.  Moreover, due to the delegation of various activities to the digital technologies and to the increasing possibilities for network collaboration, the practitioners' responsibilities may be challenged: who maintains the professional responsibility for failure diagnostics or inferences? Digitalization also involves an increment of administrative tasks with which practitioners are also confronted.

Particularly due to the transformation of bureaucratic regimes (Alvesson/ Willmott 2002; Courpasson 2003) and the inherent dynamic of the knowledge economy (Drucker 1970, Bell 1973 , Castells 1996, Stehr 2001) several authors postulated a shift towards new forms of work organization focused on individualized responsibilities or in other words, indirect control forms of work in open markets and flexible organizations (Pongratz/ Voß 2003; Barley/ Kunda 2004; Holtgrewe 2005; Schein 2007). Hybrid organisational arrangements (Courpasson 2003, Adler 2001, Blau 1955, Hardy et al 1998, Powell 1987, Reed 1996) have since then emerged with a so called “soft bureaucracy” (Courpasson 2003: 10) based on cooperation achieved through “technologies of trust, which make politically viable a more fuzzy but nevertheless active system of concentrated power”. Such new forms of organizing work in rapid changing environments privilege the emergence of mixed forms of professionalism combining bureaucratic, consumer and occupational features of the organisation of work (Freidson 2001; Noordegraaf 2007). Noordegraaf (2007) portrays current professionalism as the “content of control” and distinguishes hybrid professionalism as high ambiguous and mixed control form of work from “purified” (or occupational) and “situated” (or organizational) professionalism.

In this paper we focus on the digitalization of work in the public sector and how it affects the traditional bureaucratic professional form. As empirical examples we concentrate on the introduction of new digital technologies in the police work and in the administration of unemployment benefits in Germany. We comparatively analyze how digital technologies affect the day to day practices of civil servants focusing on the questions of what activities are delegated to digital technologies, what new interactions between experts, new tasks and related  competences emerge and how the experts perceive the effects of these changes in their professional work and their professionalism.