New conditions for identities, cultures and governance of welfare sector professionals: The teaching profession
This paper examines conditions for professional work in times of contradictory trends in the context of professional work, changes that inevitably influence working conditions. Changes in governance are of special interest as many recent reform movements specifically, albeit not always explicitly, aim at changing the identity of professionals (Skålén, 2004). We argue that changes in governance of public sector professionals can lead to new ideas about professional identity, diversification in professional identity patterns, some of which can be described as processes of marginalization. Processes of diversification can be understood in various ways; for example, we examine changes in governance from an identity and culture perspective. We draw attention to the concept of professional identity as a way of understanding changes in governance and the dynamics between the logic of the profession and the logic of the organisation. By diversification we mean that the concept of professional identity can be seen in terms of multiple identities as well as movements between and within these identities, dividing previous more homogenous identities into more heterogeneous identification patterns.
In previous studies, we have found that changes in the way welfare sector professions, such as teaching, are governed can lead to resistance among targeted professionals if the changes result in a clash between the logic(s) of the profession and the logic(s) of the organisation. That is, often professionals subscribe to a logic based on profession-specific values rather than organisation-specific values. For instance, professions and organisations may have different ideas about how to plan, execute, and follow-up work (e.g. Fältholm and Jansson, 2008; Jansson and Parding, 2011; Parding and Abrahamsson, 2010; Parding, 2007). In addition, we have found that the concept of identity illuminates the dynamics at play when professions, professionals, and organisations interact to prioritise interpretations (an expression of power), a struggle that has become particularly clear as public sector services are being privatised (Lundström and Parding, 2011; Muzio et al., 2008). Although the foundation of this paper is theoretical, we use the teaching profession, in the context of Sweden, as a way to explain our line of argument.
By examining changes in governance for the teaching profession using the concept of identity, we highlight the dynamics at play for professional work organisations in the public sector. We argue that the concept of identity can be used as an example of an intersection where a profession’s and an organisation’s respective logics meet, coevolve, and sometimes clash. The concept of identity can yield insight into the logics underpinning organisational change, as identity highlights the continuous negotiation between the stakeholders – the profession and the organisation (Alvesson et al., 2008; Jenkins, 2008). In fact, although researchers have explored professions as key mechanisms and primary targets for institutional change on a general level, few researchers have used the concept of identity as a point of entry (Alvesson and Wilmott, 2002). The identity perspective has been relatively neglected in relation to the logic of professions and organisations when it comes to examining the conditions of professional work (Goodrick and Reay, 2010), such as teachers’ work (Tsui, 2007). In addition, much research done on changes in working conditions for professionals, such as for teachers, takes a rather normative stand by depicting the changes as challenging and even counter-productive (e.g. Apple, 2004; Ball, 2003; Day, 2002; Evetts, 2006a; Lindblad, 2009; Sachs, 2001). We elaborate on this critique by acknowledging that different forces are at play simultaneously, which produce change as well as continuity (e.g. Ackroyd et al., 2007; Evetts, 2009; Muzio et al., 2008; Noordegraf, 2011). Recently, van Gestel and Hillebrand (2011) have supported this argument in a longitudinal study of change in public employment services. Their study demonstrated that fluctuations often occur; that is, who has the priority of interpretation, or the ‘winning logic’, changes over time. In addition, effects can imply problematic and beneficial features (Adler et al., 2008; Farrell and Morris; 2003; Waring and Currie, 2009). In other words, we see professions and organisations as both being influenced and influencing and both subject to gains as well as losses (e.g. Adler et al., 2008; Malhotra and Morris, 2009; Muzio and Ackroyd, 2008). Summarising this line of argument, Farrell and Morris (2003: 150) see the impact of these competing logics as ‘differentiated, mediated and not entirely negative. The impact, however, is real and major’.
The paper is structured as follows. First, we present a background to the context in which we see professional work, and more specifically teachers’ work, being placed: the context of New Public Management (NPM). Then, we present the concepts of professional and organisational identities and cultures as tools for understanding changes in professional work. Next, we discuss identity and culture as platforms for resistance and change. Finally, we highlight ways that identity can explain change of governance in the context of professional work.
Teachers’ work in the context of NPM-influenced changes
Professional work is indeed often depicted as an essential part of today’s society (e.g. Adler et al., 2008). For example, professional workers have been described as ‘key players in the production of knowledge and technology, the economic engines of post-industrial societies’ (Bourgeault et al., 2009: 475). At the same time, professional work in the public sector has recently been subject to extensive reforms and institutional changes (e.g. Adler et al., 2008), not the least of which have occurred in the health care and education sectors (Evetts, 2006b; Lindblad, 2009; Power, 1997). These institutional changes can be seen as part of the New Public Management (NPM) model, a philosophy that applies private-sector management models to the public sector. Because the definitions and practical implementation of NPM varies (Hood, 1995; Ferlie et al., 1996; Pollitt and Bouckaert, 2004), it can best be described as an umbrella term for many reforms aimed to make the public sector more cost-efficient and more effective (Sachs, 2003). On a more concrete level, concepts such as lean, balanced scorecard, system thinking, process organisation, and learning organisation are examples of NPM-related ideas that have been implemented in the public sector to achieve better quality, effectiveness, and efficiency. Muzio et al. (2008: 24-25) describe the recent changes as lying at ideological and symbolic levels with new ‘vocabularies of efficiency, choice, competition, together with the redefinition of traditional categories of client groups […] as consumers’. Even if the main aim often has been to save money, it is clear that one part of NPM-related organisational changes deals with how organisations view their aims and roles in society. Even in those cases where the NPM-related ideas are not actually implemented in their entirety, which is usually the case, NPM influences professional discourse and therefore influences how the employees view their organisation, their profession, their work, their own identity, and their professional identity.
The teaching profession is an example of a traditional welfare sector profession that has been subject to considerable change. In today’s society, the education sector is seen as central to forming social institutions that shape and change society and its citizens in desirable ways (Ginsburg et al., 1995; Hargreaves and Goodson, 2003; Lindblad, 2004). From this perspective, teachers have a central position in that they transform political decisions into practice vis-à-vis the citizens (Vinzant and Crothers, 1998). In addition, the teaching profession has historically been defined by ‘the logic of the profession’ (Evetts, 2006a). According to Evetts, the logic of the profession is based on collegial authority, knowledge, discretionary power, and trust from the management level, all characteristics that reflect the professional ethics promulgated by professional associations. Moreover, the teaching profession can be linked to ‘a sense of being responsible for education in society’, and thus teachers are knowledgeable, well read, and keepers of societal values as well as literature and art. These features have given teachers high self-esteem and the profession has historically enjoyed a high status in society. It can be argued that the teaching profession has also been characterised by altruism, where becoming a teacher has been seen as a calling rather than just a profession. In addition, in Sweden and other welfare state countries teachers are almost exclusively public employees as equal (and free) education has been regarded a right for all citizens. These historical and cultural circumstances have formed how teachers view their work and hence their professional identity. While the circumstances depicted above take the context of Sweden as a point of departure, the discussion may be applicable in similar contexts.
In school organisations, the influence of NPM can be seen in terms of pupil orientation. One practical example of pupil orientation is the introduction of interdisciplinary work teams, teams that are formed of teachers with different subject specialities (Havnes, 2009; Parding, 2007; Parding and Abrahamsson, 2010). These teams are responsible for one group of students in one specific study programme for the entire three years of upper secondary school. In Parding’s study, the teachers were expected to create joint projects that required the use of several subjects for their students. This change also meant teachers were to share offices with their interdisciplinary team colleagues rather than their subject colleagues. This organisation of upper secondary teachers’ work clashes with traditional ways of organising their work, which is based on subject specialisation (e.g. Siskin, 1994). Havnes (2009) and Parding (2007; 2010) both show that local school organisations have introduced these teams with the ultimate goals of transforming the traditional individual structure of teaching and improving student learning. At the same time, this change is complex and problematic: some teachers resist as it goes against their logic of how work should be organised, planned, and executed and challenges their strong subject identification. The school, as an employing organisation, can be seen as attempting to transform the way teachers see themselves, their professional identity, by requiring teachers to organise their work in interdisciplinary teams rather than as members of a specialised field of study. Other studies point at more adaptive responses towards changes. These changes reflect how identification processes are continuous and depend on surrounding conditions. Fredriksson (2009; 2010), for instance, claims that four different attitudes and behaviours among teachers can be identified in the wake of recent marketization reforms in Sweden: bureaucratic-, professional-, participation-, and market-oriented teachers. These ideal types are based on different views in terms of overriding ideals about professions, basis for decision-making, view of pupils (and parents), and the basis for legitimacy. For instance, the bureaucratic ideal is based on the belief that rules, regulations, and standards should lead work, whereas professional logic is based on the belief that teachers’ professional knowledge and shared ethics should govern. The participation logic is based on the idea that a professional’s focus should always be on the ‘client’, e.g. the students. Finally, the market-oriented logic is based on a loyalty towards the employing organisation, profit, and attempts to satisfy the paying customers, who should be in focus at all times. The examples above reflect resistance and continuity as well as adaptation and change.
Four changed circumstances in the teaching profession
As earlier described, recent and current reforms have often been depicted as linear, decision implementation outcomes. We argue that the changes are not as straightforward as they may appear in many descriptions of professions and NPM. We argue that recent and current changes in the governance of the public sector, as well as changes in society as a whole, influence the way people form their professional identity. To illustrate this point, we draw on four changed circumstances, while acknowledging that these are mere examples and similar circumstances may be found.
First, we argue that a movement in status and priority of interpretation from profession to organisation identity can be identified. As mentioned earlier, we see a trend of continued strengthening of organisations and managerial structures and values in school organisations. This implies that decision-making and hence power is moved from the professional level to the managerial level. Our analysis is that the traditional emphasis on professional values – such as discretionary power, collegiality, and trust from management – are shifting towards organisational values that rest on a rational legal foundation where rules are central, procedures are standardised when possible, evaluations are important, and decisions are made on hierarchical authority. This means that the identity based on professional values is being challenged and a movement from profession to organisation identity can be identified. This scenario is supported by a study of upper secondary teachers who were subject to extensive changes where two identification patterns were noted: one more traditional and one more in line with the organisation’s current idea of how to manage teachers’ work (Parding, 2007). This can be seen as a diversification in identity patterns. However, it has yet to be examined whether this movement in a more general sense makes teachers’ professional identities stronger (i.e. the teachers’ collective traditional identification becomes stronger as a response) or changes the identification patterns (i.e. diversification within the profession as individual teachers take on an organisation-oriented identity as a way of positioning themselves positively in the organisation, perhaps causing a marginalisation of the profession-oriented identity).
Second, we see processes within the profession whereby the traditional professional identity eventually competes with new sub-identities. We argue that these processes reflect the trend to privatise the public sector. In Sweden, the school choice reform in a short time has led to a drastic change in the distribution between independent and public schools, especially at the upper secondary levels. Education is becoming a commodity that can be sold to customers (i.e. parents and students). This implies that there are a number of actors with different ideas about working conditions for teachers in the employing organisations. This can strengthen the tendency that teaching is becoming more like any other job and by that perhaps making the old type of professional identity marginalized, at least in some contexts. It most probably will create different professional identities, conditions, roles, and ethics depending on where a teacher works. In the long run, this may lead to a split or divide of the formerly homogenous teaching professional culture and the profession’s collective powers. In other words, the traditional professional identity of teachers may become diversified as sub-identities emerge under different school organisations in different school enterprises (Fredriksson, 2009; 2010).
A third new circumstance can be identified: a diversification process of ideologies. Partly clashing ideological trends can be identified. In Sweden, as in many other Anglo-Saxon and western countries, right-wing political movements are attempting to influence how schools operate. These movements include a return to order, punishment and retribution, league tables, classification, individualism, elitism, focus on core subjects, and the separation of theoretical and vocational upper secondary programs. In other words, we can see a movement away from the ‘fuzzy school’ with group work, interdisciplinary teaching, holistic learning, and the trust in the student’s own drive for knowledge. In some aspects, this reinforces old ideals in the profession (core subject focused) and works against new ideals (interdisciplinary, problem-based learning). On the other hand, many educators still endorse holistic views on education and learning with interdisciplinary teaching, problem-based learning and appealing to students’ own drive for learning. These ideological trends flourish simultaneously. The former trend encourages an organisation-oriented identity among teachers, whereas the latter encourages the traditional professional identity. Also this can be interpreted as a diversifying process within the profession.
Fourth, we identify processes of status movements between the teaching profession and other occupational groups. While the teaching profession today is suffering from relatively low salary development, relatively low status (Svensson and Ulfdotter Eriksson, 2009), lower meritocratic assets (Börjesson, 2009), changed social recruitment of new teachers (lower socioeconomic classes), and deteriorated working conditions (Lundgren, 2009), other occupational groups that have not historically been identified as professions are improving in all these areas. In other words, the teaching profession can be seen as changing positions in relation to other up-and-coming occupations and professions, e.g. nurses, entrepreneurs, middle-managers, technical experts and other officials. This can be seen as status movement processes between the teaching profession and the wider working life and other occupational groups, where the teaching profession, at least partly, seems to move downwards.
What directions the processes described above take in the future depend on the actions of different actors and who has the priority of interpretation. Clearly, this change needs further empirical examination.
Professional and organisational identities and cultures
How does the concept of identity apply to professional work and changes in governance and management? NPM reforms indeed attempt to change employee identity (Skålén, 2004). As Fenwick (2006) argues, today individuals are required – indeed seduced – to engage in self-alteration through self-assessment, shape shifting, and self-marketing to adapt to an organisation’s changing needs. Rose (1992) refers to this as ‘the enterprising self’; even if this can be seen as something on the surface, it certainly can also be part of forming new professional identities. Building a professional identity is assumed to be changing, on-going, and pervasive, more like a process than a product (Jenkins, 2008). It can be described as the perception of belonging (Baruch and Cohen, 2007) and as negotiated meanings of experiences arising from membership in social communities both in professional education and working-life (Wenger, 1998; Billett and Somerville, 2004). Individuals’ professional identities overlap with institutional, normative, and discourse practices as well as with how individuals present themselves to the social world and with which social practices they wish to be associated.
However, changing identities is a complex endeavour as professional identity is often ‘highly resistant to change’ (Goodrick and Reay, 2010: 59). Evetts (2006c), for example, argues that professionals construct a profession-specific identity during their professional training and as members of professional associations. The professional identity frames how professionals see the problems and solutions associated with their profession, perspectives that suggest how work is to be done, including how professionals should interact with clients. When superiors or the organisation as a whole introduce and try to implement changes in an organisation, professionals often object as the changes challenge their concept of what it means to be a professional, their professional identity. Such a conflict can be seen as a clash of identities as members of a profession traditionally identify with their specific profession more than with their employer, the work organisation (Baruch and Cohen, 2007).
Professionals generally tend to have a weaker identification with their organisation than with their profession because individuals in general choose professions rather than specific work organisations; moreover, workers change organisations more often than professions (Baruch and Cohen, 2007; Heggen, 2008). How individual professionals identify themselves can also depend on whether their work organisation approaches the ideals and values they identify with. Eteläpelto and Saarinen (2006) distinguish between three voices or discourses – personal, professional, and institutional – that give rise to different kinds of professional identities.
As Billett (2006) points out, individuals are neither fully autonomous nor totally constrained and shaped by situational factors, social practices, and cultural mores. When new and old members are socialized into an organisation and a profession, they are not only passive receivers but also active agents who influence and sometimes challenge the organisation as well as the profession. Therefore, the concept of identity closely relates to the concept of culture. The concept of culture is usually used to discuss the symbols, stories, standards, truths, and so on that are mutually created in the organisation and the profession in relation to the world, how this creation occurs, and how it affects both individuals and the culture. As cultures are context-dependent, inconsistent, multifaceted, and above all socially constructed (Berger and Luckmann, 1966; Martin, 2002), it is not possible to say that an organisation or a profession has one homogeneous and stable culture. Rather, organisations are imbued with pluralism, conflict, and processes that are constantly being updated (Gerhardi and Nicolini, 2000). In other words, the individual and the social world are co-constitutive (Billet and Somerville, 2004; Jenkins, 2008).
This perspective, however, makes it difficult to draw a sharp line between profession and organisation. The same individuals are involved in the creation of both the organisational structures and cultures and the structures of professional cultures. Wenger (1998) emphasizes learning in communities of practice as a way of discussing the creation of the varying but still normative laws, interpretive frameworks, stories, and symbols that govern what happens in an organisation and, we argue, in a profession (professional culture). Communities of practice can be within the organisation, but they can also extend beyond organisational boundaries, across time and geography. Simultaneously, communities of practice may also extend across professional boundaries and be intertwined with expectations deriving from broader social categories such as social class and gender (Somerville and Abrahamsson, 2003). Teachers’ professional identity formation can thus be seen as an on-going process of interpretation and re-interpretation of experiences in professional learning contexts (Beijaard et al., 2004; Eteläpelto and Saarinen, 2006).
Identities and cultures as platforms for resistance and change
Typically, professional identities and cultures and organisational cultures are conservative and involve social control – for better or for worse. They create productivity, stability, professional identity, organisational boundaries, learning environments, and motivation, but also limit autonomy, flexibility, innovation, and opportunities for change for both individuals and organisations (cf. Alvesson, 2002; Abrahamsson, 2006).
Cultural heritage can serve to restore the old order – such as diffuse backlash and disobedience that result from resistance and entrenched professional culture – and make it difficult to achieve the desired outcome (Abrahamsson and Somerville, 2007; Andersson and Abrahamsson, 2007; Gerhardi and Nicolini, 2000); however, it is not clear who has power over the cultures. They are created and owned by groups and are not directly accessible for control by the organisation’s management. It may be that the organisational culture in the form of ambiguities, paradoxes, informal conflict, power and condition differences, subgroups, and evasive and contradictory objectives are more significant for what happens (or what does not happen) in the organisation than the official and the overall culture (Alvesson, 2002; Gerhardi and Nicolini, 2000; Lysgaard, 1961, Martin, 2002). We argue that these dynamics and different currents have implications for processes of diversification within professions, such as the teaching profession. Indeed, Tsui places such an argument in the following context:
In a community of practice, engagement in the negotiation of meanings involves the production and adoption of meanings: The two must go together. Members whose meanings are consistently rejected and whose experiences are considered irrelevant, and hence not accepted as a form of competence, will develop an identity of marginality. (Tsui, 2007: 661)
In other words, for a certain identity to develop, a supportive environment is essential. This means that institutional changes and organisational changes can influence professional identity. In addition, if work organisations gain a greater role, a basis for identities is created with different content, content that equates those values that permeate the specific organisation. Research supports both the idea of peaceful co-existence of different identities and ideas (e.g. Reay and Hinings, 2009) as well as clashing identities and ideas (e.g. Evetts, 2006a; 2006b).
At the same time, changes in technology, production, and organisation create new conditions and place new requirements on behaviour, attitudes, and skills and even new forms of professional cultures and professional identities that follow the new developments. For example, professional strategies, union politics, and professional education as well as pedagogical theories and professional ideals play important roles for the forming of teachers’ professional culture. Equally important, however, is the practical work in the local school. That is, the local school’s management and organisation as well as its administrative rules and the political and institutional climates in the municipality, region, and nation significantly influence a teacher’s professional identity.
One way of examining and understanding change is to separate the values of the profession and the organisation and the organisational principles of the profession and the organisation. This type of perspective makes it possible to discuss more complex connections between profession and organisation. Using this type of analysis, Espersson (2010) shows how the Swedish Enforcement Administration attempted to introduce team organisation to strengthen professional values (equality and impartiality) even though some aspects of the professional and bureaucratic organisational principles were simultaneously reinforced (hierarchy, control, and management by rule).
Conclusions – diversified identities
In this article, we have examined changes in governance of professional work as the changes relate to the concepts of identity and culture. We have identified processes of diversification within the teaching profession relating to new and old forms of work organisation and competence demands, to more and new types of employers, to new and old pedagogical ideologies, as well as to other occupational groups. Clearly, a complex picture of changes (social, cultural, economic, geographical, institutional, political, pedagogical, and theoretical to name but a few) emerges when examining professional identities. Some of these changes can be seen as resulting in marginalisation of the teaching profession, while others in renewing of the profession. Professions and professionals have a strong identification with collective values set up by their respective power structures, and these professions resist change by delaying identity changes, retaining old values (for better or worse), and preserving whatever they can (i.e. by fighting marginalisation, lower status, lower pay, etc.). At the same time, professional groups or even individual professionals or sub-groupings may transform so the changes correspond to their ideals and logics (cf. Muzio and Ackroyd, 2008). The intersection between what can be called traditional professional identity and new professional identities (derived from NPM-influenced governance changes) together with other changes shapes new identities, or rather changes the landscape of identities. Skålén (2004: 251), for example, argues that ‘NPM creates heterogeneous, conflicting and fluid organisational identities rather than the uniform and stable business identity it is supposed to’. Similarly, Pritchard and Symond (2011) believe that new roles for professionals lead to new identities, a view that emphasises the importance of seeing local (organisation level) as well as broader (institutional and societal) contexts when examining how professional identity is formed. Future studies should examine multiple coexisting or competing identities to understand the dynamics involved in shaping these identities and what these changes mean for professionals, professions, organisations, as well as clients. Indeed, we see these complexities as crucial to understanding the dynamics of change:
Much of the theorizing in this field, which has tended to homogenize collective identities by emphasizing what is common or shared, failed to capture the interplay between different communities within organisations, and produced bland, undifferentiated empirical research. (Brown, 2006: 731)
There are many views on what it means to be a professional and what constitutes a profession. How a profession is defined depends on who has the power to interpret and define a particular profession, so it is extremely important to discuss the governance of professionals in terms of identities. By examining the role of identity, one can come to understand the dynamics of various forces involved in shaping what views or logics or discourses are winning and which ones are losing. Research suggests that changes in work organisations (not only in the teaching profession) have led to a shift in what professional work involves and means. For example, professionals have been described as going from being social trustees to experts (Brint, 1994), from professional to managerial (Liecht and Fennel, 2001), and from professional commercial to commercial professional (Suddaby et al., 2007; Suddaby and Greenwood, 2005). Sahlin (2009) describes this process as a bifurcation – professions becoming divided into regular practitioners and experts where being an expert increases one’s status and being a regular practitioner decreases one’s status.
As a result of our findings, we believe organisations should understand that professionals often have a strong identification with profession-specific values, and for a change to be implemented successfully there needs to be a dialogue between profession and organisation, both at the level of values as well as the level of organisational principles. In this way, the discussion can move beyond the victimization discussion, an approach that is often ineffective for the organisation, the professional, and the customer. Several other researchers (Noordegraf, 2011; Timmermans, 2008; Waring and Currie, 2009) also argue that professionals may gain from incorporating new ideas and values even when they are introduced by management. Old and new values within professions and within organisations themselves continually compete to form professional identity. In the case of the teaching profession, this struggle for supremacy in identity formation can be seen on at least three levels: in professional associations and communities; in regional and national school systems and municipalities or companies that employ teachers; and in the teaching activities and the students. All three of these competing levels influence the way teachers form their identities even though they involve different and sometimes contradicting logics, values, expectations, and demands. Future studies should carry out empirical research that examines how professional identity is formed in the context of changing conditions for professional work to further understand the micro processes that form professional identities as they intersect and coexist.
 The concept of governance is often used in the field of political sciences and refers to systematic approaches to how organizations govern, or steer, the organization; including the members of the organization. It deals with rules set up in the specific organizational context at quest. In this paper we discuss governance as it applies in professional work settings. A dilemma in governance of professionals’ work is that as the tasks are complex in character, it is difficult, not to say impossible to govern by simple rules. Rather the professionals need to be given discretionary power as to be able to make context appropriate decisions; in order to carry out their work
 It should be noted that we do not use the concept in terms of diversity-based on ethnic background or other similar constructs.
 When using the concept of identity, we refer to professionals’ identities as it relates to work, work organisation and workplace culture.