Gurus, Hired Guns, and Warm Bodies: Itinerant Experts in a Knowledge Economy by Stephen R. BarleyGurus, Hired Guns, and Warm Bodies: Itinerant Experts in a Knowledge Economy by Stephen R. Barley

Gurus, Hired Guns, and Warm Bodies: Itinerant Experts in a Knowledge Economy

byStephen R. Barley

Paperback | August 6, 2006

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Over the last several decades, employers have increasingly replaced permanent employees with temporary workers and independent contractors to cut labor costs and enhance flexibility. Although commentators have focused largely on low-wage temporary work, the use of skilled contractors has also grown exponentially, especially in high-technology areas. Yet almost nothing is known about contracting or about the people who do it. This book seeks to break the silence.



Gurus, Hired Guns, and Warm Bodies tells the story of how the market for temporary professionals operates from the perspective of the contractors who do the work, the managers who employ them, the permanent employees who work beside them, and the staffing agencies who broker deals. Based on a year of field work in three staffing agencies, life histories with over seventy contractors and studies of workers in some of America's best known firms, the book dismantles the myths of temporary employment and offers instead a grounded description of how contracting works.


Engagingly written, it goes beyond rhetoric to examine why contractors leave permanent employment, why managers hire them, and how staffing agencies operate. Barley and Kunda paint a richly layered portrait of contract professionals. Readers learn how contractors find jobs, how agents negotiate, and what it is like to shoulder the risks of managing one's own "employability."


The authors illustrate how the reality of flexibility often differs substantially from its promise. Viewing the knowledge economy in terms of organizations and markets is not enough, Barley and Kunda conclude. Rather, occupational communities and networks of skilled experts are what grease the skids of the high-tech, "matrix economy" where firms become way stations in the flow of expertise.

Stephen R. Barley is Charles M. Pigott Professor of Management Science and Engineering and Co-Director of the Center for Work, Technology and Organization at Stanford's School of Engineering. Gideon Kunda is Associate Professor in the Department of Labor Studies at Tel Aviv University.
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Title:Gurus, Hired Guns, and Warm Bodies: Itinerant Experts in a Knowledge EconomyFormat:PaperbackDimensions:352 pagesPublished:August 6, 2006Publisher:Princeton University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0691127956

ISBN - 13:9780691127958

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Table of Contents

Preface ix




Chapter 1: Unlikely Rebels 1

Itinerant Experts 1

The Unraveling of Permanent Employment 9

The Legal Context of Contingent Work 12

Estimating the Size of the Contingent Workforce 16

Making Sense of Contingent Work 18

The Study 26

Organization of the Book 30





Part I: Setting the Stage




Chapter 2: Clients 37

Why Do Clients Hire Contractors? 38

How Do Clients Hire Contractors? 49

Conclusion 51





Chapter 3: Contractors 53

Why Do Contractors Become Contractors? 55

What Kinds of Contractors Are There? 64

The Roles Contractors Play for Clients 67

Conclusion 72





Chapter 4: Agencies 73

Sales Culture and Technical Culture 74

What Types of Staffing Agencies Are There? 84

Conclusion 91





Part II: Life in the Market




Chapter 5: The Information Game: Finding Deals 98

What Contractors Do 99

What Clients Do 108

What Staffing Agencies Do 114

Conclusion 133





Chapter 6: Making the Deal 136

Hiring Manager Evaluations 138

Negotiating the Terms of Employment 144

Closing Deals 161

Conclusion 166





Part III: Life on the Job




Chapter 7: Contractors as Commodities 177

Maintaining a Task Orientation 177

Delegating Management Responsibilities 180

Creating Outsiders 183

Conclusion 187





Chapter 8: Contractors as Experts 188

Integration: Creating Team Members 188

Dependence 193

Conclusion 198





Chapter 9: Navigating between Respect and Resentment 199

Tales of Respect 199

Tales of Resentment 204

Forming an Identity 214





Part IV: Living the Cycle




Chapter 10: Temporal Capital 223

The Temporal Patterns of Contracting 225

The Rhetoric and Reality of Flexibility 241





Chapter 11: Building and Maintaining Human Capital 244

The Danger of Obsolescence 244

The Risks of Learning 248

Strategies for Remaining Current 251

Conclusion 263





Chapter 12: Building and Maintaining Social Capital 264

Reach 266

Reputation and Occupational Circles 269

Reciprocity and Referral Cliques 273

Networking: Building and Maintaining Networks 276





Chapter 13: Itinerant Professionals in a Knowledge Economy 285

Itinerant Experts: The Contracting Life 286

The Ambiguities of Self-Reliance 289

Itinerant Experts and the Social Order 292

The Occupational Dimension 302

Supporting Itinerant Professionalism 311





Epilogue 317

References 321

Appendix: Cast of Characters 333

Index 337


Editorial Reviews

"This is social science at its best: Barley and Kunda's ethnographies of itinerant technical contractors provide nuanced and compelling insights into the changing nature of work and employment today, and a revealing glimpse into the organization of the knowledge economy."-AnnaLee Saxenian, University of California, Berkeley