A History of Professionalism: Julius Henry Cohen and the Professions as a Route to Citizenship
Roiphe, Rebecca, Fordham Urban Law Journal
Introduction I. The Professions in Historical Context A. A Short History of the Professions in America B. The Professions and Professionalism: A Historiography II. Julius Henry Cohen and the Professionalism Melting Pot III. Beyond the Multiculturalism-Assimilation Divide Conclusion: Relevance of Professionalism as a Route to Participation in a Post-Multicultural State
This Article revives and defends a largely discredited history of professionalism. It argues that the rhetoric of the professions at the turn of the twentieth century provided immigrants, minorities, women, and outsiders of all sorts with an imagined route to citizenship. This rhetoric combined with the partially open doors of the profession helped people to move from the periphery to the center. It helped newcomers, who were viewed as at best irrelevant and at worst a burden on America, to transcend their role as outsiders and see themselves as architects of a new and just social order. It also provided a way for women and minorities to translate their experience on the periphery into a new vision for the American polity. Professionalism, in other words, served an important function. It provided a growingly diverse and intensely divided country with an arena in which to negotiate these differences and translate them into a common language.
For years, historians and sociologists have reminded us of just how harmful professionalism can be. They have ably and powerfully documented the abuses committed in the name of the professional ideal. But relatively few in recent years have uncovered or even recognized professionalism's more beneficial side. (1) This Article seeks to correct that distortion. In doing so, it begins what will hopefully be an ongoing effort to use history to identify aspects of profession and the rhetoric that accompanies it that are worth preserving.
Professionalism is such an elastic concept that it can and has served many different purposes over the years. Some of those purposes have been pernicious--the rhetoric of the professions has, for example, been used to justify the exclusion of newcomers of all sorts, particularly ethnic and racial minorities and women. (2) It has been used to create hierarchies within the profession and reinforce unjustified monopolies. (3) But other purposes have been more benign. Professionalism, for instance, has also served as a repository for a certain version of the American Dream. (4) It has stood for the ability of individuals on the outskirts to make their way, in one generation at most, to the inner circles of American society. (5) The imagined role of professions was itself useful to those who fought to achieve status through professional advancement. Not only did it provide motivation, it also supplied meaning for their pursuit.
So, this Article argues, professionalism did not simply serve as a way to consolidate the power of a new middle class elite. It did not grow, as the sociologist Andrew Abbott has suggested, solely from a monopolistic impulse--a way to lay claim to a jurisdiction and protect against the intrusion of other professions and occupations. (6) It was not, as Jerold Auerbach has suggested, purely a product of the elitism, greed, and xenophobia of a particular social and economic class. (7) Nor was it only a cultural process by which an emerging middle class defined itself and consolidated its power. (8) Of course, exclusion and elitism were a big part of the story, but they were not the only part. The blend of elitism and egalitarianism in the rhetoric of the professions allowed for a greater emphasis on the latter. As such, immigrants, women, and other ethnic minorities could use the rhetoric of professionalism for their own purposes.
After unearthing this more benign history of professionalism, this Article argues that this turn-of-the-twentieth-century version of professionalism is still relevant and desirable today. …