The Erosion of Expert Control Through Censure Episodes

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Author: Huising, Ruthanne

Publication: Organization Science, November 2014 

Abstract: 

Organizations depend on experts to oversee and execute complex tasks. When faced with pressures to reduce their dependence on experts, managers encounter a control paradox: they require experts to explicate the very knowledge and discretionary approaches that are the basis of their control for the purpose of undercutting this control. Experts rarely consent to such a situation; therefore, attempts to reduce dependence on experts and control their work are more often aspirational than actual. Drawing on an ethnography of an organization that was required by a government agency to transfer the work responsibilities of experts to employees throughout the organization, this paper describes how a network of actors developed a discursive, political process to renegotiate control of expert work practices. Through censure episodes, long-standing and largely successful expert practices were examined one by one and relabeled as problematic in relation to established goals. The constructed breaches opened expert practices to evaluation, questioning, and eventual delegitimation within the organization. This process depended on the introduction of new roles that revised dependencies and generated new resources. This paper contributes to the understanding of control in organizations by theorizing how the emergent, symbolic work of censure episodes are a means of gradually subverting expert control. Further, these struggles are reconceptualized as multiple-role negotiations rather than bilateral manager–expert struggles.

Read the full article: Organization Science