Man, Work, and Society: A Reader in the Sociology of Occupations

By Sigmund Nosow; William H. Form | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
OCCUPATIONAL ASSOCIATIONS

The existence of occupational associations may be traced as far back as the occupations they represent. The meaning of these organizations becomes clear when the nature and meaning of associational activities in general are understood. Associations are composed of individuals who have come together to pursue common needs or common goals. The form they assume in a social setting is a reflection of the larger society and the diverse interests of groups within that society.

In traditional societies characterized by ascriptive tendencies in the allocation of social roles, occupational associations reflect the stability of the social order and function to insure that stability. This, indeed, was the main function of guilds in medieval Europe, as Pirenne so clearly documents. Until the rise of a new economy and the free market, associations reinforced the traditional relations among estates and the economic groups within the estate systems which were themselves regulated by church and crown. The primary function of the association at that time was, according to Pirenne, to protect the group against changes which might upset the distribution of their traditional privileges.

Under a more dynamic social order, associations may also function to secure and hold power within the community. Associations arising under such conditions represent countervailing power against other organized power systems. That this is true in American communities may be observed from studies of community power structures in the United States (see Chapter XI). In short, under any set of conditions, associations represent social efforts to control social change. In traditional societies they represent forces resisting change; in more dynamic societies they are also forces for bringing about change and restructuring community power relations.

Thus, in order to understand associations at any period in history, some understanding is needed of the social order in which associations are found. In medieval society associations arose among merchants and

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