The Rise of Professionalism: A Sociological Analysis

The Rise of Professionalism: A Sociological Analysis

The Rise of Professionalism: A Sociological Analysis

The Rise of Professionalism: A Sociological Analysis

Excerpt

The emergence of professional markets in the competitive phase of capitalism was an accessory development in a much more formidable transformation. In structure and ideology, the emerging modern professions foreshadowed much that could be realized in practice only in our century, when capitalism entered its corporate phase. In the first half of the nineteenth century, however, when professions began to organize and reform themselves, they were part of a world that was being subverted and reshaped by "the utopian endeavor of economic liberalism to set up a self-regulating market system." These words, as well as the very expression "great transformation," are Karl Polanyi's; the general thrust of his brilliant interpretation is well known:

For a century, the dynamics of modern society was governed by a double movement: the market expanded continuously but this movement was met by a countermovement checking the expansion in definite directions. Vital though such a countermovement was for the protection of society, in the last analysis, it was incompatible with the self-regulation of the market, and thus with the market system itself.

Now it is customary to say that professions are "those occupations in which caveat emptor cannot be allowed to prevail and which, while they are not pursued for gain , must bring to their practitioners income of such a level that they will be respected and such a manner of living that they may pursue the life of the mind." It would be tempting, then, to consider the professions as expressions of Polanyi's "countermovement" and thus account for their paradoxical position: for they are, in fact, one of the distinctive features of industrial capitalism, even though they claim to renounce the profit motive and appear to some as "a mere survival of the medieval guild." But such an account would not only be too simple; it would also incorporate uncritically much of the professions' appearances and ideological self-conceptions.

A first step to render modern professions sociologically intelligible is to reflect on their historical origins: professions were and are means of earning an income on the basis of transacted services; in a society that was being reorganized around the centrality of the market, the professions could hardly escape the effects of this reorganization. The modern model of profession emerges as a consequence of the necessary response of professional producers to new opportunities for earning an . . .

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