(Re)constructing the model of interpreting professionalism through institutional work : the perceived impact of agencies on interpreters' work practices
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The changing British economic climate and the austerity-led contractualism across public services have brought the role of interpreting agencies to the fore. Drawing on conceptual frameworks derived from the sociology of professions, knowledge-based organisations and institutional theory, this study documents the institutional work of a number of interpreter-turned-managers aimed at creating new practices against the corporatisation logic in the field of public service interpreting (PSI). Through closely observing the everyday managerial operations of interpreting work processes, these findings reveal that interpreters’ ‘professional project’ at the local level is carried out through the institutionalisation of their professional jurisdictions and knowledge claims. The micro-tactics employed by frontline managers constitute important forces of resistance against the procurement logic and sharply contrasts against the outcome of senior-level professionalisation strategies. Therefore, this thesis has made the following contributions. Theoretically, it challenges the traditional ‘association-centred approach’ to modelling the trajectory of PSI and highlights the role of commercial agencies in engineering the work practices of interpreters and the formation of organisational professionalism. It argues that agencies have gone beyond the traditional role of an information broker to a key institutional gatekeeper and central arena for inducing field-level change. An alternative hybrid model is proposed in order to reflect that PSI is changing from a technical profession towards a managed profession, in which traditional values are increasingly merged with business principles and market tenets. Empirically, it provides novel insights into the organisation of interpreting services in practice and opens up the unexplored field of interpreting agencies as a fruitful research site. A wider implication of the research is the need to extend the notion of the interpreting workplace beyond the space where communication-mediation tasks are performed, to where interpreting services are planned, organised and managed. Importantly, professional interpreters should be consulted in the procurement process rather than being treated as numbers by mainstream agencies for contract-bidding purpose.