Mike Dent and Stephen Whitehead
The social and cultural assumptions that surround the term ‘professional’ have never been subject to so much question as they are now. These debates reflect an era when the certainties, divisions and assumptions which held true through most of the twentieth century are no longer available to us. They no longer provide us with a secure sense of place and grounding. There is a new and rigorous scrutiny abroad, a social polemicism driven by the urge to deconstruct and subvert all comforting ideologies, beliefs, heroes and myths. This may well be a healthy state both socially and individually, it may even be a sign of a mature society, but it comes at a price. The price is a loss of faith, trust and sense of order, an increased perception of risk. As we search for new meanings and signposts in our constructions of reality, we are increasingly denied recourse to those statuses that have long anchored cultural, class and social difference. One of the anchors of order has been ‘the professional’: someone trusted and respected, an individual given class status, autonomy, social elevation, in return for safeguarding our well-being and applying their professional judgement on the basis of a benign moral or cultural code. That professional no longer exists. They have gone, swept aside by the relentless, cold, instrumental logic of the global market, and with it the old order has been upturned. There are many who will welcome this quiet but fundamental revolution. There are others who will mourn the passing of the old-style ‘professional’. But whatever one’s perspective, it is evident that in this new era we are all expected to be professional, to perform professionally. In losing its exclusivity, being professional has become the leitmotif of the postmodern age.
As the notion of professionalism has become reconfigured, emerging as a ubiquitous, compelling icon for all organizational players, so has the ideology/discourse of managerialism risen to ascendancy. The subsequent blurring of the boundaries between professionalism and managerialism has been profound across both the public and private sectors, leading to a significant slippage of identity for those professionals who previously saw themselves as exclusive and privileged and, thus, somewhat removed from the messy business of managing resources. Now there is no area of organizational life unsubjected to increasingly sophisticated regimes of accountability. Whether in the public or private sector, the professional has no escape from being managed nor, indeed, from managing others.