Leeds Beckett University
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The impacts of co-production on public professionalism: a Bourdieu-inspired analysis of mental health services for children and young people

posted on 2024-01-25, 15:29 authored by Andrew PasseyAndrew Passey

This study critically examines the impact of public service co-production on professional practice. It addresses a gap in the literature, in which little attention has been paid to how co-production shapes ideas of professionalism and the professional practice of staff working in public services. The study comprises a novel synthesis of theory from public management, the sociology of professions, and Bourdieu’s theory of practice. It involves a qualitative case study of the implementation of a policy oriented towards co-production. Following Bourdieu, the case study is conceptualised as a “game”, in which players possess forms of capital that they use to maintain or gain power and influence. The study critically engages with Bourdieu’s theory, by asking what happens in a game defined by a logic of co-production, not competition. 

Research was undertaken at two interconnected levels. Macro-level critical discourse analysis of policy texts revealed the colonisation of the policy space by neoliberal discourses. These set limits to what local actors deemed possible. Micro-level research comprised 31 interviews and observation of 21 meetings of professionals involved in policy implementation. Data were explored in a thematic analysis. Local actors typically understood co-production in organisational terms, rather than in front-line work with service users. Other themes pointed to a layered experience. Actors with pre-existing positions in the field were able to extend their professional jurisdictions in one part of the game. In another, new actors were able to legitimate an alternative mode of professional practice closer to conceptualisations of service user co-production in the academic literature. 

Along with theoretical insights, the study’s empirical findings have implications for a number of professional communities and for the design and delivery of public policy. Findings elucidate gaps between high-level policy discourse on co-production and front-line implementation, and between the academic debate and how co-production is understood in the practice of staff working in public services.


Qualification name

  • PhD


Frost, Nick ; Fisher, Pamela ; Laredo, Erika ; Williams, Glenn

Awarding Institution

Leeds Beckett University

Completion Date


Qualification level

  • Doctoral


  • eng


Leeds Beckett University

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