Boundary work – power and liminality in management consulting

Felix Stein

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

Abstract / Description of output

This chapter describes the work of a small team of mostly German management consultants, hired between February and May 2013 by top managers of a financial services firm in Paris. It provides the reader with a rare first-hand account into the day-to-day work practices of corporate elites, who are notorious for being both secretive and widely influential. The material presented here has been chosen because it succinctly illustrates the constant concerns around legitimacy that were prevalent among consultants and their clients, when I studied them ethnographically between September 2011 and November 2013. It exemplifies that the quest for legitimacy remains one of the defining conditions of corporate elites, and that this quest often remains gendered in nature.
The chapter also attempts to make a novel contribution to the wider field of elite studies. It shows that consultants achieve legitimacy in two important ways: Firstly, they refer to two competing aspects of knowledge, namely a positivist and a perspectival one. Secondly they position themselves either as ‘insiders’ or ‘outsiders’ of client companies. Both aspects of their activity make them socially liminal beings, who run the risk of being seen as polluting others, a problem that drives their continuous re-assertions of professionalism, and partially explains their controversial role in society at large. The chapter thereby foregrounds the importance of attachment to and detachment from the mobile and contested socio-epistemic boundaries of corporations in constructing elite legitimacy. Being part of an elite is not just about who you are, it is about how you manage to move across corporate boundaries.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNew Directions in Elite Studies
EditorsJohan Heilbron, Johannes Hjellbrekke, Felix Bühlmann, Mike Savage
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781315163796
Publication statusPublished - 6 Dec 2017

Publication series

NameRoutledge Advances in Sociology

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Elites
  • Anthropology
  • Management


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