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Consultants: at the core of interdependencies within the “management” space

Abstract : WORKING PAPER This working paper has been published in French: " Les consultants: au coeur des interdépendances de l'espace de la gestion", Cahiers internationaux de Sociologie , Vol. CXXVI [ 99-­113 ] , 2009. This article sheds light on links between the world of consulting and the world of the organizations which use consultants' services. It calls into question the place and the growing influence of consultants within economic , public and the voluntary spheres. It suggests to understand the latter as the result of a dynamic which leads each actor in these worlds to behave as « a professional » , which means basing their practice on the mastery of specialized and appropriate knowledge , techniques and tools. These enable these actors to legitimate their claims to help solve organizational problems. Consultants present themselves as experts in this knowledge. Thus they meet , and sustain , the demand shared by their clients for a professional figure. This figure , institutionalized by the academic world , is played by the « manager » , known as the person who is able to implement the principles of Control , Performance and Rationality. Consultants : at the core of interdependencies within the " management " space Regardless of their field and method of application , the interventions of consultants are underpinned by both a rationale that aims to optimise performance and by the establishment of rational , methodical and controlled procedures. They profoundly transform the organisations in which they find themselves by not only introducing new norms of action , but also different structures and techniques. These discourses and practices belong to a wider world , the world of management , which has existed as a method of " guiding business " based on the principles of " Control , Performance and Rationality " since the second half of the 19th century. The use of consultants as experts in these principles has enjoyed continuous growth in France since the end of the Second World War , as evidenced by the growth in the number of consultancy firms and the volume of their activity (Villette , 2003 ; Berrebbi-­‐Hoffmann , 2002) as well as the proliferation of the services on offer and the diversity of their profile (Henry , 1992). Moreover , the diversification of their interventions and their clientele alike seems to show their increasing influence in spheres in which management was not previously a norm. This is true of the public sector as well as the voluntary sector which have both implemented the widespread use of consultants in order to (re) organise their activities. How then can this ubiquity of consultants advocating this management rationale be explained ? Following on from the work of J. K. Galbraith (1989) , is their influence to be understood from the standpoint of their ability as experts , thus making them the last avatars of technocracy ? Or , should we not instead adopt a Weberian theory and explain this " consultocracy " (De Saint-­‐Martin , 2000) as a function that occurred simultaneously with the historical emergence of a " management mindset " , in the same way as bureaucracy went hand in hand with the spirit of capitalism (Weber , 1971) ? As an aside to these two suppositions , this article will seek to explain the growing role of consultants , based on what they generate and on the more general development of a professional " management " space. Indeed , it is within this configuration (Elias , 1987) that consultants take their position , in close interdependence with other actors : the academics who institutionalise management knowledge on the one hand and on the other hand the executives , managers , unit leaders or directors who operationalise this knowledge in order to maintain their executive , supervisory or managerial roles. The analysis of the interdependence between these actors brings the internal dynamic of this space up to date. This existence of consultants and their influence can thus only be understood through these interdependent networks , which are themselves enshrined in the much wider professional dynamic of management space. The consultants construct the systems through which the knowledge necessary for the legitimate exercise of management activities in organisations plays out. This pursuit of legitimacy by the different professional groups involved in this space acts as a catalyst both for the renewal of management systems by those deemed as the experts i. e. the consultants , and for their ever broader and more specialised application , thanks to their help. This article , following on from more general works on the distribution of management form (Boussard , 2008) will focus on the French example , examining in particular the relationships between organisations and the worlds of consultancy and academia. THE WORK OF EXPERTS IN MANAGEMENT If management space can be described as a world characterised by a set of activities linked to managing , then the latter can be divided heuristically into two subspaces. On one side are the consultants and on the other their customers who are responsible for the management within an organisation, The former offer their expertise to the latter to help them choose from the different solutions that are open to them and then assist with their implementation. The above modelling of the work of consultants however conceals an underlying and essential feature of their activity , namely the conception of management processes and their commercial implementation. When they are not with the customer , consultants further develop their solutions , closely monitor rival and emerging techniques , devise new models and tools and construct material and discursive presentations which allow them to transfer this technical knowledge into a commercial proposal. As such, the activity of consultants is a " knowledge industry " (Kipping and Engwall , 2002). It develops and sells knowledge of organisations and their management. However , consultants are ostensibly not the only actors who play a part in the production of management knowledge .
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Valérie Boussard. Consultants: at the core of interdependencies within the “management” space. 2016. ⟨hal-01326228⟩



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