Our Latest Thinking

Creating institutional power in financialised economies: The firm-profession nexus of advanced business services

– Sabine Dörry –

Despite major crises, financial capitalism is enjoying a period of relative stability. Financial powers – underpinned by the financialisation imperative of the 21st-century capitalist order – are robust and dynamically reinforce the global system’s principal traits and values. The advanced business services (ABS) sector ties in closely with these dynamics and shapes financial capitalism while benefiting disproportionately from it. Yet, ABS’ ability to form and ultimately dominate is little understood. This paper challenges the firm as the predominant unit of analysis and develops an innovative firm-cum-profession framework to comprehend how dynamics along this nexus are systemically entrenched to constitute and invigorate the hegemonic institutional power of contemporary financialisation.

The analytical inclusion of ABS professions is important because it has profoundly shaped the socio-economic landscape of and is intricately related to the processes of financialisation, globalisation, and neo-liberalisation. Yet, in contrast to these latter processes, professionalisation has received much less analytical attention as a vital factor shaping the knowledge-based services economy; and where it has been studied, the main focus remains on service firms. I engage with the analytical unit profession more effectively to shed light on its co-production of institutional power, and introduce a new conceptual framework, i.e., the firm-profession nexus. The argument starts from the observation that the ABS industry has been able to increasingly set and enforce standards defined by specific, financialised, epistemologies, which have since not only rewritten the economic and policy textbooks, but also shaped and reproduced dominant forms of expertise and professional practice. In tandem, ABS firms and professions have been sharing and mediating an orientation to economic success as ‘producers’ of professional bodies of knowledge (with knowledge being both a social product and a source of power, cf. Dingwall and Lewis, 2014 [1983]) and inscribed control over ‘epistemological’, ‘moral’ and ‘pragmatic’ authority with particular implications for the larger political and economic order, endorsed, however, by state recognition.

Continue reading here.