Professions and Professional Ideologies in America

By Gerald L. Geison | Go to book overview

1
Introduction

Gerald L. Geison

In 1968, in a synoptic essay on "professions" for the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, the influential American sociologist Talcott Parsons left his readers in no doubt about the importance of his subject. The "professional complex," he wrote,

has already become the most important single component in the structure of modern societies. It has displaced first the 'state,' in the relatively early modern sense of that term, and, more recently, the 'capitalistic' organization of the economy. The massive emergence of the professional complex, not the special status of capitalistic or socialistic modes of organization, is the crucial structural development in twentieth-century society. 1

For Parsons, moreover, professions and professionals seemed to defy the usual conflict-laden categories of social analysis. Professionals were neither capitalists nor workers, neither peasants nor proprietors, nor were they even (except occasionally) government bureaucrats. The advance guard of the professional movement was to be found instead among academics. In Parsons's view, the professions and the research university were tightly linked, and their arm-in-arm march toward ever-increasing rationalization and efficiency was the most striking feature of modem life. 2

Parsons's vision of the professions was widely shared at the time by other American academics. For most of this "American century," in fact, most Americans have looked upon the professions as a centrally important, increasingly effective, and basically apolitical component in modern society. Precisely because the professions have been so widely perceived as occupations of special value and importance, the scholarly literature about them has often reflected a concern with "gate-keeping." There have been repeated attempts to specify a set of distinctively professional attributes and to assess the extent to which this or that occupational group approached or diverged from the ideal type. At least since 1915, when Abraham Flexner produced his

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Professions and Professional Ideologies in America
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • 1 - Introduction 3
  • 2 - The Profession That Vanished 12
  • 3 - Stewards of the Mysteries of God 29
  • 4 - What We Shall Meet Afterwards in Heaven 49
  • 5 - Legal Thought and Legal Practice in the Age of American Enterprise 70
  • Notes 111
  • Index 141
  • Notes on Contributors 149
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