European Business Schools Librarian's Group

Les Cahiers de Recherche,
HEC Paris

No 782: Constructing the governable small practitioner: the changing nature of professional bodies and the management of professional accountants' identities in the UK

RAMIREZ Carlos ()

Abstract: This article aims at bridging two dimensions that have been often addressed separately by the sociology of professional groups: intra-professional divisions and the governance of professionals. Taking professional accountants as an example, the attempt by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales to give an institutional existence to the category of the small practitioner is examined. The plasticity and the polysemic nature of the notion of “smallness”, which refers simultaneously to physical (small/big), geographical (local/global) and moral (anonymous/notorious) characteristics, offer indeed the opportunity to show how these three dimensions have been integrated in evolving organisational arrangements and discourses aimed at legitimising the professional order. It is contended that the definition of what small practitioners are and how they should be dealt with can only be understood as part of a larger issue which concerns the governance of the accountants community and the nature of the professional body. The efforts of the ICAEW’s authorities to problematise the nature of small practice indicates the will to integrate distant modalities of accounting expertise within the same professional space, so as to avoid that the physical and geographical distance between big and small firms might be turned into too conspicuous a hierarchical distinction and to preserve, therefore, the ideal of the community of peers upon which professional bodies have been built.

Keywords: professions; governance; professional organisations; professional regulation; social categories

JEL-codes: M40

55 pages, April 1, 2003

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