French Consultants’ Impossible Professionalization, 1880–1954

By Odile Henry

Given their desire to claim the symbolic power of expertise, consultants had an interest in organizing themselves, as had members of other similar trades (architects, chartered accountants, careers advisers) and on the pattern of liberal professions who developed their own uniform systems of regulation and control. Yet, the numerous efforts at organization which punctuated the trade's history between 1938 and 1954 proved abortive. As late as the interwar period, resistance to creating an Ordre des Conseils en Organisation (OCOS) was the long-term consequence of internecine struggles between two types of consultants: consulting engineers and management consultants. On the one hand, the deeply internalized prohibition of “making a trade out of science” hindered the definition of the profession based on incomes. On the other hand, as the number of management consultants grew from the end of the thirties, the professional identity of the group developed in analogy with medicine and gave a decisive role to personal qualities that were particularly resistant to any form of codification (intuition, psychological sense, charisma).


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