The Rise of Professionalism: A Sociological Analysis

By Magali Sarfatti Larson | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
MARKET AND ANTI-MARKET PRINCIPLES

To evaluate the divergences between the market toward which the first modern professions strove and the larger, self-regulating market that was becoming dominant at the time of the profession's emergence, we must return briefly to Karl Polanyi's thesis. The rise of industrial capitalism is characterized, for Polanyi as well as for Marx, by the generalization of commodity exchange and by the ideological appeal to the principle of equivalence of exchange. Legitimation of the new social order is sought in the ideological construction of reality based on this principle of apparent equivalence.1 Polanyi writes: "The double movement...can be personified as the action of two organizing principles in society.... The one was the principle of economic liberalism, aiming at the establishment of a self- regulating market, relying on the support of the trading classes, and using largely laissez-faire and free trade as its methods."2

The violence which this functionally rational principle of organization does to all the other instances of social practice and to the immemorial fusion of the economic function with other levels of practice, such as the symbolic, the religious, and the political, evokes a parallel and simultaneous countermovement, based on "the principle of social protection aiming at the conservation of man and nature as well as productive organization, relying on the varying support of those most immediately affected by the deleterious action of the market -- primarily, but not exclusively, the working and the landed classes -- and using protective legislation, restrictive associations, and other instruments of intervention as its methods."3

One tempting objection can be immediately disposed of: the professions' reliance on the state to control the access to their markets was and is justified in terms of the protection of the consumer. However, once state-backed monopoly was obtained, it represented the ultimate sanction of market control by a group of professional "producers" and a proved means, thereafter, of protecting themselves against undue interference by the state. Indeed, reliance upon the state was not merely a pattern borrowed by the nineteenth-century professions from the medieval guilds, but also the means by which the ascending bourgeoisie had advanced toward a self- regulating market. In Polanyi's words, "The road to the free market was opened and kept open by an enormous increase in continuous, centrally organized, and controlled interventionism.... There was nothing natural about laissez-faire... laissez-faire itself was enforced by the state...[it] was not a method to achieve a thing, it was the thing to be achieved."4

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