Professions and the French State, 1700-1900

Professions and the French State, 1700-1900

Professions and the French State, 1700-1900

Professions and the French State, 1700-1900

Excerpt

In the rapidly expanding body of scholarship on the history and historical sociology of the professions, very little focused attention has been paid to the role of the nation-state and centralized bureaucracy. The professions in France are also in need of much closer scrutiny. This volume therefore represents an important departure in two ways at once. It not only points toward two neglected avenues of research, but also takes some solid steps along them.

The reasons for the prior neglect of the state are not far to seek. They are, for the most part, a reflection of the political cultures and traditions in which scholars are embedded. The bulk of the literature on professions has been produced by British and especially American scholars, resulting in a preoccupation with Anglo-American developments, in which the state has played a relatively late, indirect, and passive role. In addition, many American scholars have found it hard to suppress the traditional Anglo-American suspicion of centralized political authority and bureaucracy, and some of them have found it impossible to imagine any close connection between the (malign) process of bureaucratization and the (benign) process of professionalization. Until very recently, it might even be said, American scholars have tended to see an inherent opposition between the state and professions, between government control or supervision and the "free" exercise of professional authority by autonomous individuals belonging by choice and training to sharply contained "communities of the competent."

This image of free professional experts, operating independently of the central state and its bureaucracy, may have reached its apothesosis in the work of the influential "functionalist" school of American sociology, whose leading exponent was the late Talcott Parsons. In an essay of 1968 . . .

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