Understanding social exclusion in elite professional service firms: field level dynamics and the ‘professional project’

Louise Ashley, Laura Empson

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This article explores social exclusion in elite professional service firms (PSFs) through a qualitative study of six legal, accounting, investment banking and consulting firms. Employing a Bourdieusian perspective we find that all six firms privilege candidates with the same narrow forms of cultural capital, while acknowledging that this contradicts their professed commitment to social inclusion and recruiting the best ‘talent.’ We find that this behaviour is enshrined within the habitus of elite firms. We argue that it represents an
organisational strategy generated by a compulsion to achieve legitimacy in a specific field of London-based elite PSFs. We identify a ‘professional project’ of sorts, but argue that this can no longer be mapped on to the interests of a discrete occupational group. As such, we contribute to studies of elite reproduction and social stratification by focusing specifically on
the role of elite professional organisations in the reproduction of inequality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)211-229
Number of pages19
JournalWork, Employment and Society
Issue number2
Early online date1 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017


  • Bourdieu; Elite Reproduction; Professional Service Firms; Social Exclusion, Social Stratification

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