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Measured Success: Knowledge, Power, and Inequality in the Professional Work of Evaluation

Professional Work: Knowledge, Power and Social Inequalities

ISBN: 978-1-80043-211-6, eISBN: 978-1-80043-210-9

ISSN: 0277-2833

Publication date: 15 October 2020


The erosion of autonomy in traditional professions has been explained by client capture – professionals increasingly work under close control of powerful corporate clients. However, research is missing on how knowledge workers in rapidly rising knowledge professions of the twenty-first century experience and respond to the risk of client capture. Evaluation is one such exploding field. This study examines the narratives of professional evaluators to understand how they navigate their mandate to deliver independent assessments of complex social programs under the threat of client capture. Data come from 29 interviews with evaluators of 65 interdisciplinary graduate training projects funded by the US National Science Foundation in the first two years of the program (2015–2016). Evidence of client capture is found in how evaluators discuss scope creep with limited resources, being asked to misrepresent their findings, and burying of evaluation reports. The authors also find evidence of evaluators navigating client capture by rationing their labor, using state-based rules to mediate demands, drawing on professional expertise, and generating savvy emotional labor. But this study argues the client capture concept obscures the dynamics of knowledge production, in which evaluators shape scientific programs in innovative ways. This study sheds new light on the context in which inequalities operate in this emerging profession, and how the structure of knowledge work may generate novel pathways of professional influence where work conditions might otherwise rule against it.



Martínez, E., Smith-Doerr, L. and Sacco, T. (2020), "Measured Success: Knowledge, Power, and Inequality in the Professional Work of Evaluation", Gorman, E.H. and Vallas, S.P. (Ed.) Professional Work: Knowledge, Power and Social Inequalities (Research in the Sociology of Work, Vol. 34), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 169-192.



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