The Rise of Professionalism: A Sociological Analysis

By Magali Sarfatti Larson | Go to book overview

Chapter 9
THE RISE OF CORPORATE CAPITALISM AND THE CONSOLIDATION OF PROFESSIONALISM

The classic, older professions sought to cont rol their markets and to gain a privileged position in the occupational and social hierarchies. Modern professionalization is, thus, an attempt to translate one order of scarce resources into another: the possession of scarce knowledge and skills is, indeed, the principal basis on which modern professions claim social recognition and economic rewards. As used in the professional project, the notion of expertise incorporates contradictory principles. On the one hand, it embodies the rationalizing and universalistic legitimation of market monopoly, insofar as it is standardized expertise, accessible to all who care to be adequately trained and qualified. On the other hand, expertise is also used to claim superior rewards and to establish social distance from other occupational groups -- a claim which is as much supported by the structural limitations on access to training as it is by the professions' deliberate efforts to achieve corporate exclusiveness.

The rise of modern educational systems brings an ideological resolution to the tension between universalistic principles and exclusive privilege embodied in the notion of expertise. Mass access to the lower echelons of the public school system allows the higher levels of the educational hierarchy to claim meritocratic legitimations for their selection of entrants. The inegalitarian uses of acquired expertise are thus concealed by the alleged universalism of the schools' criteria of selection.

The unification of training and research in the modern university is a particularly significant development. As graduate and professional schools emerged at the top of the educational hierarchy, the professions acquired not only an institutional basis on which to develop and standardize knowledge and technologies; they also received, in university training, a most powerful legitimation for their claims to cognitive and technical superiority and to social and economic benefits.

The rise of a new type of institution of higher education in the United States depended, in turn, on the massive availability of surplus capital, especially after the depression of 1893. While the university represents a major factor in the advance of professionalization, it is only one development in the twentieth-century maturation

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