research@hec - Issue #31 - (Page 6)

sociology research hec Institutional change: Promoting the emergence of a natural order Institutional change on a global scale, such as the introduction of new professional regulations, can generate injustices at an individual level that jeopardize the success of that change. Carlos Ramirez analyzed this phenomenon by focusing on the events that took place in the United Kingdom’s largest association of accounting and auditing practitioners, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW). Carlos Ramirez B iography Carlos Ramirez is the holder of an agrégation in social sciences and has a PhD in sociology. He has been professor in accounting at HEC since 2002. Ramirez’s work focuses on the history and sociology of professional groups, in particular the constitution of a transnational market for accounting and auditing services, as well as the role of multi-national audit firms in the standardization of these two activities. 6 UK auditors remained the sole judges of the quality of their own work in a self-regulated system until 1989, when the Eighth European Directive regulating auditing activities was transposed into British law. The authorities then entrusted the ICAEW with the responsibility for setting up a system for monitoring the quality of members’ work. CHANGE IN INSTITUTIONAL LOGIC With this change, the logic that had hitherto governed professional identity, independence, and the freedom to decide the material and intellectual means for performing tasks was turned on its head. The change was driven by a broader societal trend to hold professional organizations more accountable for the actions of their members. This first involved defining what it meant to be a responsible professional. However, although professional auditing standards existed, they only reflected one ideal vision that was far removed from other different conceptions of good practice. Moreover, the ICAEW was already in a period of internal tension when the quality monitoring was introduced. Small audit firms felt that they were being poorly represented, with some even suggesting that the institution was in the hands of a few large, multinational firms. The initial results of the quality monitoring system reflected these feelings and exacerbated tensions. • January-February 2013 WHAT IS GOOD PRACTICE? The inspectors noted numerous shortcomings, particularly in small audit firms. They struggled to judge the quality of the work due to the absence of sufficient material proof. In reality, audit procedures were less formalised in many small firms than in their larger counterparts due to the different nature of the clientele, but this does not necessarily mean that the auditing was of an inferior quality. Practitioners working in small firms thought they were being treated unfairly and accused those responsible for quality monitoring of basing their assessment of the entire community on rules that were only appropriate for large firms. They claimed that the process did not take sufficient account of the co-existence of different conceptions of worth regarding professional work and that a category of the institution’s members was being stigmatized. As a result, a change that had been intended to introduce greater openness and improved quality in fact created more confusion, which even threatened the very existence of the institution. In reality, no system of worth was capable of imposing a natural order that could enable different conceptions of professional identity to co-exist. How could they find a way out of this situation? THE CONTRIBUTION OF THEORY: ECONOMIES OF WORTH Boltanski and Thévenot suggest a theoretical fra-

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of research@hec - Issue #31

Cover & Contents
Countries falsifying economic data: How statistics reveal fraudulent figures
Extending product lines up and down in quality: Asymmetric effects on brand evaluation
Institutional change Promoting the emergence of a natural order

research@hec - Issue #31