If all citizens are to share in the autonomy implied in the notion of democratic citizenship, the society’s ‘experts’—among them its professionals—must enact democratic processes in their practices. Experts, by definition, ‘possess’ specialised bodies of knowledge and have expertise in a range of specialised skills. Knowledge increases the possibility of informed professional decision-making while skill enables the successful accomplishment of practical professional tasks. Professional education aims to create experts but in the process it may well reinforce hierarchically structured institutional frameworks and inhibit lay citizens’ autonomous potential. Modern democratic societies are founded on the concept of citizen involvement and partnership. ‘Experts’ have an important role to play in modelling and enabling the processes of mutual critical reflection which make genuine democratic partnership possible (see Heathcote, in this volume).
In democratic societies professional education must encourage the putative professional to challenge and work toward the reconstruction of institutionalised dependency behaviours and values. The empowerment of young people to participate proactively in autonomous citizenship is dependent upon the provision of a professional education in which all professionals, not just teachers, learn to perceive themselves as partners in the dialogic deconstruction and reconstruction of expert-non expert inequality.
The social practices and theories of our culture are shaped and reshaped in the course of human interaction (Mead 1934; Goffman 1959; Bhaskar 1991;