Professional fluidity: Reconceptualising professional status in a world of independent work

David Cross, Juani Swart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (SciVal)


Current debates and definitions of professionalism are primarily grounded in organisations, either as employing bureaucracies or service firms, that control and structure expert labour. This is problematic as it neglects the many neo-professionals that are self-employed. We draw on interviews with 50 independent consultants and find that, outside of organisational boundaries, they pursue a strategy of professional fluidity. This is a relational and market-driven approach that requires a multiplicity of roles and chameleon-like tactics. As opposed to notions of collegial, organisational and corporate professionalisation, professional fluidity is a co-constructed and agentic approach where validity and legitimacy are achieved primarily through relations with clients and collaborators rather than institutions or employing organisations. Through professional fluidity we contribute to a more holistic understanding of professionalism that is sensitive to the employment mode rather than knowledge domain and develops existing notions of who is a professional. This is important for wider debates on the current and future state of professions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1699-1720
Number of pages22
JournalOrganization Studies
Issue number11
Early online date24 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021


  • Professional fluidity, Professions, self-employment, consultants, future of work


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