The making of professionals: Embedded civil society development in a transition country

Mariana Bogdanova

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


The paper addresses the development of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in transition settings. Caught in the balance of knowledge exchange and translation of ideas from abroad, organisations in turbulent setting legitimise their existence by learning through professional networks. By association, organisational actors gain acknowledgement by their sector by traversing the corridors of influence provided by international partnerships. What they learn is how to conduct themselves as agents of change in society, and how to deliver on stated missions and goals, therefore, legitimising their presence in a budding civil society at home. The paper presents a knowledge production and learning practices framework which indicates a presence of dual identity of NGOs - their “embeddedness” locally and internationally. Selected framework dimensions and qualitative case study themes are discussed with respect to the level of independence of organisational actors in the East from their partners in the West in a post-socialist context. A professional global civil society as organisations are increasingly managed in similar, professional ways (Anheier & Themudo 2002). Here knowledge “handling” and knowledge “translation” take place through partnership exchanges fostering capable and/or competitive change-inducing institutions (Czarniawska & Sevon 2005; Hwang & Suarez 2005). How professional identity presents itself in the third sector, as well as the sector’s claim to expertise, need further attention, adding to ongoing discussions on professions in institutional theory (Hwang & Powell 2005; Scott 2008; Noordegraaf 2011). A conceptual framework on the dynamic involved for the construction professional fields follows: • Multiple case analysis provides a taxonomy for understanding what is happening in knowledge transition, adaptation, and organisational learning capacity for NGOs with respect to their role in a networked civil society. With the model we can observe the types of knowledge produced and learning employed by organisations. • There are elements of professionalisation in third sector work organisational activity with respect to its accreditation, sources and routines of learning, knowledge claims, interaction with the statutory sector, recognition in cross-sector partnerships etc. • It signals that there is a dual embeddedness in the development of the sector at the core to the shaping the sector’s professional status. This is instrumental in the NGOs’ goal to gain influence as institutions, as they are only one part of a cross-sector mission to address complex societal problems The case study material highlights nuances of knowledge production and learning practices in partnerships, with dual embeddedness a main feature of the findings. This provides some clues to how professionalisation as expert-making takes shape in organisations: • Depending on the type of organisations’ purpose, over its course of development there is an increase in participation in multiple networks, as opposed to reliance on a single strategic partner for knowledge artefacts and practices; • Some types of organisations are better connected within international and national networks than others and there seem to be preferences for each depending on the area of work; • The level of interpretation or adaptation of the knowledge artefacts is related to an organisation’s embeddedness locally, in turn giving it more influence within the network of key institutions; An overreaching theme across taxonomy categories (Table 1)is “professionalisation” or developing organisational “expertise”, embodied at the individual, organisational, and sector levels. Questions relevant to the exercise of power arise: Is competence in managing a dual embeddedness signals the development of a dual identity in professionalisation? Is professionalisation in this sense a sign of organisations maturing into more capable partners to the arguably more experienced (Western) institutions, shifting the power balance? Or is becoming more professional a sign of domestication to the agenda of certain powerful stakeholders, who define the boundaries of the profession? Which dominant dynamics can be observed in a broadly-defined transition country civil society, where individual participation in the form of activism may be overtaking the traditional forms of organised development work, especially with the spread of social media?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication32nd European Group for Organizational Studies (EGOS) Colloquium, Naples
Subtitle of host publicationSub-theme 68 Power and Inequality: Organizing and Organization in Transforming Societies and Emerging Economies
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2016


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