The Rise of Professionalism: A Sociological Analysis

By Magali Sarfatti Larson | Go to book overview

Chapter 12
MONOPOLIES OF COMPETENCE AND BOURGEOIS IDEOLOGY

FROM HISTORICAL TO STRUCTURAL ANALYSIS

Looking backward from the phenomenon of profession as it appears in contemporary social life, I have attempted to trace its underlying unity in terms of the double movement by which it is historically constituted. The visible characteristics of the professional phenomenon -- professional association, cognitive base, institutionalized training, licensing, work autonomy, colleague "control," code of ethics -- have been considered from a double perspective: first, as structural elements of the general form of the professional project, and second, as specific resource elements, whose variable import is defined by different historical matrices.

As structural elements, these characteristics appear in various combinations in all the modern professions. As resources, however, they are qualitatively different in different historical contexts and therefore they vary in import or "useableness." In the nineteenth century, for instance, institutionalized training meant different things for the same professions in Britain and in the United States; the differences in meaning reflected larger differences in the whole structure of the social stratification system in each country, including the different ideological legitimations of inequality. A cognitive base, as the necessary premise of training, is necessary to every specific professional project, but in each project it had a different content; therefore, it occupied in each a different place among various strategic resources.

The history or "genealogy" of the elements that appear combined in the complex structure of profession can be traced across historical time spans and contemporary functional boundaries.1 This has been done, for instance, in histories of professional schools or professional associations, or in histories of the cognitive corpus of various present-day professions (such as histories of legal thought, of architectural styles, of engineering techniques, of medical arts). I have focused my account on the complex mobilization and organization of these elements by different types of professional projects. It is time now to turn once again from historical diversity to the underlying structural processes and structural effects, which give a unified and broader meaning to this diversity.

As organizations of producers of relatively scarce and mostly intangible skills, modern professions first emerge from the personal ties of dependence characteristic

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