The Rise of Professionalism: A Sociological Analysis

By Magali Sarfatti Larson | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
STANDARDIZATION OF KNOWLEDGE AND MARKET CONTROL

The structure of the professionalization process binds together two elements which can, and usually did, evolve independently of each other: a body of relatively abstract knowledge, susceptible of practical application, and a market -- the structure of which is determined by economic and social development and also by the dominant ideological climate at a given time.

The standardization or codification of professional knowledge is the basis on which a professional "commodity" can be made distinct and recognizable to the potential publics. This effect is never direct, but mediated by the process of training: cognitive standardization allows a measure of uniformity and homogeneity in the "production of producers." Cognitive commonality, however minimal, is indispensable if professionals are to coalesce into an effective group.

What makes the codification of knowledge so important from the point of view of the professional project is that it depersonalizes the ideas held about professional practice and its products. It sets up a transcendent cognitive and normative framework within which, ideally, differences in the interpretation of practice and in the definition of the "commodity" can be reconciled. The formalization of the cognitive base of a profession has a powerful effect on professional unification because it allows a deeper and more thorough standardization of the production of producers than would otherwise be possible. Let me briefly examine the reasons for this.

The condition for the unification of a professional area is, obviously, that there be a group of professionals ready to champion the propagation of one "paradigm," and that this group have enough persuasive or coercive power to carry the task through. The task is immensely easier when knowledge is depersonalized by formalization, for all depersonalized knowledge tends to become objectified, if not "objective." This means that the validity of this knowledge appears to transcend the particular circumstances and subjective preferences of the groups that produce it (or reproduce it, by use or transmission). The more formalized the cognitive basis, the more the profession's language and knowledge appear to be connotation-free and "objective." Hence the superiority of a scientific basis for professional unification: as pointed out in the preceding chapter, it not only produces a more for

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