Exploring the HR role and professionalisation: HR practitioners as aspirant professionals?
Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis
This thesis investigates the contemporary human resource (HR) professional role and HR professionalism based on the experiences and the understandings of HR practitioners, while at the same time seeks to define how fields such as HR aim to secure professional recognition of their field. Based on a neo-Weberian perspective, which stresses the efforts made by occupational communities to achieve professional status, the focus is on making sense of HR’s professional project; what characterises it, and how it should be conceptualised. Literature on the sociology of the professions, relevant literature on HR and primary-sourced data undertaken with HR practitioners, form the triangular axis upon which this project unfolds. The broadly phenomenological approach informed the planning and execution of an exploratory inquest which allowed a deep level of knowledge and understanding of the experience, perceptions and insights of HR practitioners. The in-depth discussions gave room for reflection and contemplation of some of the deeper and more abstract concepts concerning the HR “profession” and how they make sense of them. Using a five-theme framework, which was derived from the literature for the purposes of framing and guiding the research process, the thesis makes three related contributions to the existing literature. First, the application of the five-theme framework provides new insights into the nature of the HR role and HR professionalism, as well as understanding HR professional identity. Second, in line with the neo-Weberian focus on efforts by occupations to professionalise, the thesis offers an original and distinctive way of considering HR as an “organisational” professional project. Third, perceiving HR practitioners as aspirant professionals offers an original, new and insightful way of thinking about members of occupations that wish to be viewed as professions, such as HR, that are characterised by a process of professionalisation and are aspiring to professional status, without the prerequisite that their field will ever be professionalised in the conventional manner.
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