The ambivalence of professional identity: On cynicism and jouissance in audit firms

Katarzyna Kosmala, Olivier Herrbach

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    135 Citations (Scopus)


    This article explores how identity is self-managed in professional services firms, illustrated by the Big Four audit firms. We examine both identification and distancing processes with several identity attributes of professionalism, viewed here as outcomes of technologies of the self. We argue that the ambivalence inherent in these attributes enables auditors to more or less cynically distance themselves from the regulatory structures of their environment, forming jouissance with rules and regulation. The study, empirical in nature, contributes to an understanding of the mutual constitution of power and identity in the area of employee resistance to organizational control. As distancing from the organizational culture and the professional ideology appears to be more symbolic of individual agency than truly harmful, we conclude that jouissance may potentially enhance the firms' performance in the short term. Yet, prolonged cynical attitudes may transform professionals into 'compliant' employees, who may not be inclined to challenge issues that can have negative consequences for the firm/profession and/or the public. Copyright © 2006 The Tavistock Institute® SAGE Publications.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1393-1428
    Number of pages36
    JournalHuman Relations
    Issue number10
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2006


    • Audit firms
    • Cynicism
    • Jouissance
    • Organizational (mis)behaviour
    • Professional identity


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