RIEB Discussion Paper Series No.2022-12

RIEB Discussion Paper Series No.2022-12


A Case Study of Professionals’ Institutional Work in Digitalisation


This study explores approaches that a profession can use to maintain its professional institution when facing an emerging technology that has the potential ability to disrupt the professional institutional arrangements. With the theoretical lens of institutional maintenance work, I conducted a case study of the audit profession and artificial intelligence (AI) in Japan between 2015 and 2019, with a particular focus on the way how the professional association and dominant large firms coped with their deteriorating professional reputations and negative social perceptions about the future of the profession. The analysis reveals that the professionals engaged in a mix of internal and external preventive institutional maintenance work both at the field and firm levels, even before specific disruptors or alternative solutions of the existing audit work emerged. Their institutional work focused on developing new practices enabled by AI and advanced digital technologies and on establishing a renewed theory of their legitimacy as the leaders of digitalisation. This study expands our knowledge of institutional work and professions by introducing proactive digitalisation as an important form of institutional work in this digital age, as well as ‘preventive defence’ institutional work as a neglected strategic approach to nullify potential threats to institutions.


Institutional maintenance work; Profession; Artificial intelligence; Qualitative study


Masashi GOTO
Research Institute for Economics and Business Administration
Kobe University
Rokkodai-cho, Nada-ku, Kobe
657-8501 Japan
Phone: +81-78-803-7036
FAX: +81-78-803-7059