Managing Professional Identities: Knowledge, Performativity and the "New" Professional

By Mike Dent; Stephen Whitehead | Go to book overview
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‘The romance of lonely dissent’

Intellectuals, professionals and the McUniversity

Martin Parker

The more passionately thought denies its conditionality for the sake of the unconditional, the more unconsciously, and so calamitously, it is delivered up to the world.

(Adorno 1974:247)


This chapter is about a group of workers who might be conceptualised as a classic profession: academics. 1 Yet, as the chapters in this book demonstrate, the term ‘professional’ is historically and conceptually contested. To anyone even remotely persuaded by the linguistic turn in social theory, this will hardly come as a surprise. The words that human beings attach to the worlds they live in are not timeless or foundational. Indeed, if we rid ourselves of this preconception from the start, we are more likely to be able to explore what these words do ‘to’ us, and what we can do ‘with’ them. So let us be under no illusions, these are political matters. In etymological terms, to ‘profess’ was to put forward an individual claim to faith (and to confess is to put forward such claims together, with another). The former term then develops by the sixteenth century into a claim over the mastery of knowledge, as in a professor, and later into a class of people: professionals. Definitionally then, when speakers or writers use the word ‘professional’ they are making a claim about ownership of knowledge. These claims also usually involve suggestions about hierarchically organized boundaries and identifications, about the work that particular persons are engaged in, and (of course) how much status and reward they consequently wish to receive (Johnson 1972). But the question for this chapter is more specific, largely because I am concerned with the conjunction between the term ‘professional’ and the term ‘intellectual’. Now in some sense these are overlapping descriptions. To put it simply, that which is defined as professional work usually has intellectual elements, and many (if not most) intellectuals would probably also call themselves professionals (because they are ‘academics’). 2 But this does not mean that the words mean the same things, and in the argument that follows I will be seeking to widen the gap between the two in order to comment critically on life within the contemporary McUniversity.


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Managing Professional Identities: Knowledge, Performativity and the "New" Professional


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