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Call for Papers

“Sociology of Professional Conferences and Trade Shows:

Rethinking Careers and Professions through the Study of Events”

Scientific coordinators:

Sidonie Naulin, Sciences Po Grenoble – Université Grenoble Alpes, Pacte

Anne Sophie Béliard Université Grenoble Alpes, Pacte

Art Basel, the European Sociological Association Conference, the French Notaries’ Congress, COP 27, the European Society of Cardiology Congress, Foodex Japan, the International Co-production and Entertainment Content Market (MIPCOM), the Paris International Agricultural Show, the G7 Summit, wedding fairs , Semicon West, etc.—most professional communities have collective gathering places and moments such as conferences, congresses, trade fairs and shows, meetings, exhibitions, summits, etc. Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the number of such professional events had been rising constantly (ICCA 2019). Since the pandemic, event market actors and event participants alike have called for a return to face-to-face professional meetings, even though they are costly in terms of both time (travel time, event length) and money (accreditation, transportation, accommodation) and despite the fact that low-cost remote meetings are now an option. So what individual and collective interests are served by taking part in face-to-face professional gatherings?

The notion of “professional event” covers all types of regularly scheduled meetings (many of them annual) that bring actors from a given industry or activity sector together in a given place for a limited period of time (a few days). Such events may or may not be open to the public at large and may or may not constitute a marketplace. For participants, these moments have a professional function while taking place outside the usual work activity framework. Though they represent a break from routine and the usual professional roles, they are in no way spaces of anomie. Meetings in this context follow scripts. For participants, professional events are boundary moments situated at the intersection of work and leisure, where new contacts and connections can be configured, new matching processes that have the potential to affect individual and collective trajectories. How does this matching occur? What are its impacts on individual careers (those of people and the organizations they belong to) and professional groups? Whereas most professional communities have their own organized events of this kind, it is paradoxical that social science research has seldom studied, if at all, how professional events are related to careers and professions.

The phenomenon of professional gatherings has not been studied in the literature on careers and professions. While the importance of career analysis for understanding professional worlds has been well documented (Bastin 2016), the role of professional events remains marginal in such studies. Sociology of art suggests that participating in events such as Biennales affects the careers of art world professionals (Menger 1997; Quemin 2013). This special issue will extend the question beyond artistic activity to fields in which professional events are less visible and receive less media coverage (the manufacturing sector, politics, scientific activities, etc.). The aim is to reflect on how taking part in such events can, for example, trigger a career change or more discreet reorientation of individual trajectories, and how it may affect the trajectories of organizations themselves. Additionally, professionalization analysis (Hughes 1958) could be enriched by considering the role of professional gatherings in training processes. The role of events in professional training and socialization (Béliard and Naulin 2022; Dompeix 2016) also suggests the relevance of probing once again the determinants of career and professional group formation.

Symmetrically, careers and professions have not been included in research on events and event organization. Most studies in this area take one of three approaches: sociological, geographic, managerial. Sociology of culture has focused on the case of festivals and their audiences (Ethis 2002; Chen 2009; Amalou and Malinas 2019; Djakouane and Négrier 2021) . Economic sociology has mainly studied trade shows as marketplaces or two-sided markets that give competitors a chance to observe each other and in which economic positions get built (Favre and Brailly 2016; Paulsen and Staggs 2005; Skov 2006). This approach focuses on the economic dimension of trade shows, analyzing competitive processes, matching, price setting, and the production of values that lie at the intersection of market and non-market transactions (Garcia-Parpet 2005). Economic geography studies, meanwhile, have emphasized the regional issues involved in such events, defining them as “cyclical clusters” (Power and Jansson 2008) that facilitate the diffusion of information and innovation (Aspers and Darr 2011; Maskell 2014) and the development of international networks (Bathelt and Schuldt 2010; Kalafsky and Gress 2014). In managerial science, a neo-institutionalist approach (DiMaggio and Powell 1983) has produced a substantial literature on such events, understood as “field-configuring” (Lampel and Meyer 2008; Rüling 2009). This body of research has concentrated on the notion of field rather than profession, showing how events, viewed as places of information dissemination and learning (Dobusch and Schüßler 2010), work to develop collective identities (Bathelt et al. 2014; Gamson 1996), participant ranking, and the reputation of the given industry itself. However, this approach has neglected the microsocial effects that taking part in professional events may have on individual careers and professions.

These blind spots in the sociological literature have been partly overcome by recent studies on the effect on winners’ careers of receiving an award at a professional event (Collas 2018), for example. Sequence analysis of careers makes it possible to think of professional gatherings as potential “turning points” (Abbott) in individual trajectories. In turn, it suggests the relevance of revisiting the methods generally used in event studies to apprehend the effects of professional meetings on trajectories. How can the effects of awards or of participating in professional events be measured and quantified? Can professionals’ careers be retraced from the events they attended and their participation in event award ceremonies?

The aim of this special issue is to put forward a sociology of professional gatherings in which professional group events are studied in connection with careers and professions. To this end, we suggest shifting the analytic framework from “field-configuring events” (Lampel and Meyer 2008;. Aspers and Darr 2011), a notion associated with sociology of organizations, to sociology of professions; that is, to think of events not as field-configuring but rather as moments and  devices that frame professional gatherings and configure professions and careers. Approaching this research topic through the singular moments of professional meetings also offers the possibility of comparing sectors.

This call for papers is therefore addressed to the community of sociologists and social science researchers interested in studying professional gatherings in terms of the following two questions: 1) What social uses can professional events serve and what are their effects on participants’ careers and on professional groups themselves? and 2) How can studying such events help to renew the sociology of careers and professions?

Contributions may focus on any type of event or professional sector, regardless of size, meeting frequency, or geographic location. They may pertain to one of the following four areas or an intersection thereof.

1. Uses and practices of professional gatherings

Contributions in this area may cover making professional events choices. It can be assumed that if each industry has its own ecology of interdependent events (Moeran and Strandgaard Pedersen 2011), then those events are complementary to each other. How do members of a profession choose which professional meetings to attend? We can hypothesize that they will not all attend the same events or make the same use of a given event depending on their status and their career stage. What type of events—in terms of size, degree of internationalization, scheduled activities, etc.—are granted priority? Do inequalities exist in access to events or to some of the activities that events are organized around?

Articles in this area may also take up the question of how uses of events may differ by the professionals taking part in them (Basirico 1986). Here the idea is to explore event participants’ concrete activities during professional meetings, preparations for them, and sideline activities,and to bring to light the different ways participants experience the event. What do they do at events? How do they get involved in the proposed activities? What kinds of opportunities for networking do these events offer them? How do the activities of networking, working, training, and relaxing fit together at these events? Have event practices and uses been changed by the COVID-19 crisis and the organizing of remote, digitized events? Articles in this area may compare “physical” gatherings with events held digitally. What is the specificity of physical meetings? For example, does event digitization lead to more utilitarian approaches to events due to such devices as online agendas and directories designed to rationalize networking?

2. Effects on individual careers

Contributions in this area should examine how taking part in professional meetings may affect individual careers and represent decisive moments in those careers. Under what conditions—and in what ways—does partaking in professional events play a role in careers?

The first point here is to see what determines whether or not professional events do play a role in careers. Can taking part in such a gathering constitute a “turning point” (Abbott 2001) in a professional’s career, and if so under what conditions? In some sectors and for some professionals, participating in these gatherings does not really impact their careers. This is so, for example, in professions where participation is an integral part of people’s ordinary work (Louis 2022). It also holds when professional meetings fail to become institutionalized (Gandia and Rüling 2022). And it applies to certain moments in a career; for example, when the career has stabilized or is coming to an end. Here the point is to bring to light factors that would explain how it is that professional events play a role in professionals’ careers.

In cases where such a role exists, it needs to be specified. Do professional events and the possibility of partially renegotiating one’s social status during them have significant effects? If so, what are they and under what conditions do they become operative? Taking part in professional gatherings can constitute, for example, a means to accelerate career advancement or an opportunity to give that career a new dimension (McCormick 2009)—an international dimension, for example. We may also hypothesize that professional events are a springboard for changing one’s position within the given activity sector. Are the functions of events in careers linked to individual characteristics (professional status, gender, age, etc.) (Kriwy et al. 2013)? Are they also related to the attributes of the activity sector, such as its exposure to competition, how well-established it is, or its level of internationalization?

3. Effects on professions

Contributions in this area should explore how partaking in professional events works to configure not only economic sectors, as shown in the field-configuring event literature, but also professional groups themselves. Collectives or unions may emerge out of professional gatherings; for professional groups, those meetings are means of manifesting their existence to both themselves and the public at large (Nocérino 2020). How may events work to crystalize or redefine professional groups? To what extent do the characteristics of a given professional group explain the greater or lesser role of events in the group’s configuration? What roles do organizational format (conference, show, training session, contest, etc.) and the identity of event organizers play in configuring professional groups? Do they reinforce existing professional hierarchies? Do they subvert those hierarchies? Articles in this area may focus not only on what occurs during such events but also on the meetings and networking that take place prior to and after them. It would be particularly interesting to analyze cases where professional events “fail to configure” professional groups, so as to identify, by contrast, what conditions might enable events to play a configuring role.

4. Methodological issues

Last, contributions may investigate methodological questions. Rethinking professional meetings through the study of group events raises a considerable number of methodological issues connected with the specific difficulties of doing field research on professional events and the data collection problems thus engendered (Delgado and Cruz 2014; Paulsen 2009). One body of current research on events uses ethnographic observation and interviews (Favre and Brailly 2016; Høyer Leivestad and Nyqvist 2017; Garcia-Parpet 2005; Lecler 2019), a method that raises classic questions on how researchers are positioned. How can researchers find a place for themselves in events that often operate on the basis of inter-acquaintance? How can they introduce themselves and obtain interviews from participants seeking to develop their own networks during their profession’s events, not to engage in discussion with a sociologist? How can researchers obtain the invitations required to access activities—in some cases highly selective ones—reserved for professionals?

Moreover, the idea of investigating how careers are related to professional events raises the problem of measuring event participation effect on careers. What methodological tools might be used to measure the effects of participating in events? Traditionally, two methodological options are used to analyze careers: retrospective interviews, which mean waiting until the end of a respondent’s career in order to reconstruct the whole career, and longitudinal approaches to trajectories (Bessin et al. 2010), which measure how an event may determine trajectory development. Under what conditions could each of these methods be used in the research field of professional meetings? How might prosopographical databases be developed that researchers could use in sequence analyses that might in turn identify different types of careers by the role played in them by profession-related events? How might we isolate the specific effect of such events on individual trajectories?

Finally, because events can generate professional contact-making and interactions, we would also welcome articles using network analysis to model ties between events and participants in a given activity sector.

Contribution proposals must be between 500 and 1,500 words and written in either French or English. They must specify or include the following: 1) the specific research topic and review of the relevant literature; 2) material and methods; 3) expected results; 4) a short bibliography (no more than 5 references). Proposals that do not comply with this format will be automatically rejected.

Proposals should be sent by September 1, 2023, to Christelle Germain, assistant editor of the Revue Française de Sociologie, and the two scientific coordinators at They will be examined jointly by the scientific coordinators. Acceptance notifications will be sent out no later than October 15, 2023.

Authors of accepted proposals must submit their full texts no later than April 1, 2024. Articles may not exceed 75,000 characters (including spaces, references, and tables). Each article will be evaluated anonymously by the Revue editorial committee.


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