The Rise of Professionalism: A Sociological Analysis

By Magali Sarfatti Larson | Go to book overview
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Chapter 11

The generalized tendency toward professionalization is commonly seen as one of the characteristic features of the occupational structure in advanced industrial societies. This tendency is part of a complex transformation which is typically seen to involve:

(1)...decreasing occupational specialization with an increasing proportion of professionals and technicians in the labor force, (2)...a status-assignment system in which contribution in one's field is a major status criterion and gaining professional recognition an increasingly important mobility pattern, (3)...a system of power in which the professional is increasingly dominant, and (4)...a class structure in which there is decreasing class cleavage with class distinctions based upon access to education.1

This description is imbued with a questionable optimism about the evolution of work -- that is, about the autonomy and responsibility actually attached to formally upgraded jobs -- and about the social effects of mass education. However, its most general implications can hardly be questioned: the multiplication and apparent generalization of professional roles are related to deep changes in class structure and in ideology.

With oversimplification, two main tendencies can be made accountable for the structural changes in the stratification system: one is the tendency of the organic composition of capital to change, with the consequence that science and technology are ever more closely integrated with the productive process and labor is released from industrial production. The other tendency, related to the former but analytically distinct, is the diffusion of the bureaucratic mode of organization.


The predominant role of applied science and technology generates new professions or, rather, new specialties, as well as new demands for the application of "old" knowledge and skills.2 These skilled and highly specialized functions tend to emerge in the monopoly and in the state sectors of the economy, while the relatively autonomous evolution of basic research generates new fields and new disciplines that are essentially contained in the university.


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