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Boundary work as inner and outer dialogue: dieticians in Sweden

Ewa Wikström (Department of Business Administration, School of Business, Economics and Law, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden)

Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management

ISSN: 1746-5648

Article publication date: 9 May 2008




This purpose of this paper is to examine the ways in which one occupational group used boundary work to increase their influence and power with more influential occupational groups in a medical setting.


A qualitative interview study is used to investigate an occupational group (hospital dieticians) as it tried to increase its influence in a setting of established occupational groups. Data were collected through semi‐structured interviews with dieticians and managers at a university hospital, and by the examination of selected hospital documents.


This study concludes that the dieticians' boundary work to become more influential in a setting of established groups was characterized by their boundary setting actions as inner dialogue and their boundary spanning actions as outer dialogue. In the inner dialogue, the dieticians established a professional group and a vocabulary for the continuous communication of their unique competence that could relate to the existing medical knowledge. In the outer dialogue, the dieticians structured and made sense of their setting by the labelling of roles as power entities and by using self‐images and metaphors.

Research limitations/implications

This research was designed to describe the dieticians' efforts and experiences in the studied setting. Therefore, the data provide access to one occupational group but not to the other groups in that setting. A second limitation is the absence of observations.

Practical implications

This research contributes to the knowledge of the relevance of practitioners involved in boundary work aimed at improving professional collaboration. The study is helpful in identifying important boundaries that facilitate the establishment of collaborative relationships, and the development of accounts, procedures and routines.


The research focuses on how influence on practice is constituted through boundary work.



Wikström, E. (2008), "Boundary work as inner and outer dialogue: dieticians in Sweden", Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management, Vol. 3 No. 1, pp. 59-77.



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Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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