The performance of authority in organizations: an example from management consulting

In this paper, we sketch a pragmatist model of authority. We show that, as authority is concretely performed through interaction, it contributes to the constitution of organizational boundaries. Through the case of a six-month consultancy assignment at a large French energy group, our study highlights that authority is not only the result of a mandate or a particular endowment of the consultant, but has constantly tobe established as everyday work unfolds. We argue that a consulting assignment involves a large share of ambiguity which, while being a source of uncertainty, also allows the consultant to position himself as acting on behalf of a variety of figures that lend weight to his actions and authorize them. We identify three different forms that these figures can take: people, material artifacts and abstract entities. Finally, we show that it is the mobilization of some figures rather than others that situates the consultant either within or outside organizational configurations, thus allowing him to tactically act as an outsider or an insider.