An exploration of the professional habitus in the Big 4 accounting firms

Crawford Spence, Chris Carter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

134 Citations (Scopus)


The meaning of professionalism is changing, with the commercial pressures of globalization exerting dramatic pressures on the nature of professional work and the skill sets required of professionals. This article engages with this debate by reporting on a qualitative, empirical study undertaken in a domain that has been largely neglected by sociology: professional accounting. Focusing on the elite ‘Big 4’ accounting firms, the ways in which partners and other senior accountants embody institutional logics into their habitus are analysed. It is shown that the embodiment of different logics is inextricably linked to the establishment of hierarchy within the Big 4, with a commercial-professional logic accorded a significantly higher status than a technical-professional logic. Further, the article responds to critics of Bourdieu’s notion of habitus, highlighting how habitus does not merely denote the passive internalization of external structures, but is also capable of disembodying constraining institutional logics, thereby highlighting scope for professional self-determination.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)946-962
Number of pages17
JournalWork, Employment and Society
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 12 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Big 4
  • Bourdieu
  • accounting
  • habitus
  • institutional logics
  • sociology of the professions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Accounting
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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