In the 1970s and 1980s, scholars were loudly criticising the power and intentions of social professionals. Three decades later, one hears a different voice, that of professionals whose power, expertise and knowledge are being undermined, which is causing serious problems. During an interview, Bourdieu (1998) said that the right hand of the state does not know what the left hand is doing. In other words, technicians, bureaucrats and policymakers have no clue about the work of those who actually implement public policy, such as teachers, policemen and social workers. As a consequence, the knowledge of what is really going on in society is not shared with decision makers, who in turn do not acknowledge the specific character of socio-professional work. They do not distinguish between the logic of the market and professional logic: ‘How can we not see, for example, that the glorification of earnings, productivity, and competitiveness, or just plain profit, tends to undermine the very foundation of functions that depend on a certain professional disinterestedness often associated with militant devotion?’ (Bourdieu 2002: 183- 184).
Bourdieu and other analysts of social policy point out that the role of professionals has been changed – or reduced – as a consequence of the restructuring of welfare states by way of marketisation and accountability, the redefinition of citizens into consumers, and an accentuation of client participation. New modes of governance have intentionally limited the discretionary space of professionals. Marketisation and the focus on consumer-led services stress the voice of users or consumers at the expense of professionals. Since clients have now gained both voice (by means of legal appeals and by ‘turning organisations upside down’) and exit options (by giving clients vouchers or money to choose their preferred services), professionals have lost autonomy and authority. This makes it difficult to intervene in people's lives, even when clients may need support (Tonkens 2003). Additionally, the stress on accountability forces professionals to live up to managerial and bureaucratic standards. These new forms of governance have changed the motivation of professionals, their workload and the content of their job (Clarke & Newman 1997; Exworthy & Halford 1999). Rather than behaving like professionals they are led by a new kind of consciousness, ‘a dispersed managerial consciousness’, as Clarke and Newman put it.