Original Article on Professionalism PROFESSIONALISM: RISE AND FALL Magali Sarfatti Larson Historically, the early professionahation movements in medicine and the law appear as organizational projects which aspire to monopolize income and opportunities in markets of services or labor and to monopolize status and work privileges in occupational hierarchies. Their central task is to standardize training and link it to actual or potential markets of labor or services, a linkage that is structurally effected in the modern university. The second wave of professionalization has different protagonists than the older “market professions”: placed in a different structural situation, the bureaucratic professions transform the model of profession (which they adopt as a strategy of collective ascension) into an ideology. The import of the ideology of professionalism is examined in relation to two issues: the relationships between professional occupations and bureaucratic organizations; and the position of professional occupations within the larger structure of inequality. Analysis of the first point requires consideration of the distinctions between professional occupations in the public and private sectors, the use of professional knowledge and the image of profession in bureaucratic organizations, and the specific characteristics of professions that produce their own knowledge. In the discussion of the second point, professional occupations and their ideology are examined in relation to other occupations and to the possibilities of political awareness generated by uncertain professional statuses.

With some notable exceptions, social scientists have used the term “profession” much as it is used in everyday life. Hence follow the confused discussions about its typical attributes and the vague unanimity about the cognitive and normative characteristics of these special occupations. Given that this is not a concept but rather a notion taken from social practice which connotes much more than it denotes, it is not surprising to find the term used in contradictory or inconsistent ways. Professions are presented as “the crucial structural development in twentieth century society” (1, p. 5454, and even as prototypes of work organization for postindustrial society (2, pp. 144 ff.).Yet, at the same time, there is an emphasis on those attributes of professionalism, such as work autonomy and commitment to disinterested service, that stand in marked contrast to the capitalist organization of labor and the incentive base within which professions have developed. For Parsons (1,3,4) and his followers, professions appear to exist relatively independently of the class structure of contemporary societies, as creatures of a division of labor increasingly governed by scientific rationality. Parsons’s emphasis on the potential convergence of professional and business interests implies, however uncertainly, that professionalism and professionalization may bring to the “business class” the infusion of ethics and rationality which the latter needs to bolster its legitimacy and reassert its progressive historical role. International Journal of Health Services, Volume 9, Number 4,1979 0 1979, Baywood Publishing Co., Inc.


doi: 10.2190/68JG-4BT4-JDW9-0LHR http://baywood.com

608 I Larson For other currents in history and the social sciences, however, the professional and technical strata of the labor force in themselves represent a class, characterized by the analogous positions its members occupy in the structure of modern production and by a distinctive ideology (5, 6). More recently, Gouldner (7) has argued that intellectuals and technical intelligentsia constitute a new and rising class: despite its internal differences, divisions, and vacillations, this class represents the most plausible historical challenge to both the capitalist class of advanced Western societies and the entrenched bureaucracies of socialist countries. In this essay, I will not even attempt t o address the question of the new class. I will examine, first, the historical genesis and evolution of the model of profession and of a specific ideology of professionalism. Secondly, I will analyze some aspects of the structure of power and inequality of contemporary Western societies which bear upon the complex and often contradictory situation of professional workers.

THE CLASSIC MODEL OF PROFESSIONALIZATION As I have argued elsewhere (8), the professionalization movements of the late 18th and early 19th centuries can be interpreted, at least in the Anglo Saxon world, as organizational projects. These projects are the response of specific groups of direct producers (the leaders of professional reform movements) to both the expansion of market opportunities and the decline of either aristocratic or community warrants of professional probity. Despite the apparent continuities of form, modern professionalization implies discontinuities of structure and substance with the preindustrial or prebourgeois professions. At one level, the modern model of profession emerges from a project of market control, the core task of which is to set up and control a relatively standardized process for the production of professional producers. In other words, market control requires the creation of a standardized and uniform system of professional training. The goal of modern professionalization is not only to establish such a system but to make it the mandatory point of entry for all aspiring professionals. This exclusiveness is justified by seemingly objective and universalistic criteria of achievement-criteria that are independent of the social status of either those who apply them or those who measure up to them but are predicated, instead, on the impersonal content of what has been taught, learned, and tested. At another level, modern professionalization movements are at the same time projects of collective occupational and social ascension. This character is clearly revealed in ancien rkgime societies, for professional reform is openly aimed against the exclusiveness of the traditional guilds and the abuses of patronage. Professionalization movements attempt to gain social status through a kind of work that is represented as socially useful and benign, enlightened by adequate and adequately tested knowledge, disinterested, and respectable. This is quite a departure from the aristocratic model of patronage, as well as from the bourgeois model in which wealth, accumulated by industrial entrepreneurship, leads to social power, though not necessarily to social esteem. Thus, viewed from the standpoint of their initiators and followers, modern professionalization movements are dual projects-aimed both at market control and

Professionalism / 609 collective social mobility-which attempt to translate one order of scarce resources (namely, expertise created through standardized training and testing) into another (market opportunities, work privileges, and social status). From its inception, the model proposed by the first professionalization movements invoked a meritocratic legitimation which could not yield its full ideological benefits until much later, that is, not until this appeal to merit had been structurally rooted in apparently autonomous, nominally open, and graded systems of public education. Thus, the “modern” justifications summoned by the emergent model of profession were necessarily combined with older ideological elements which appear to strike an anticapitalist and antimarket chord. Chief among these is the ideal of service, which functions t o correct or to conceal the fact that training, a social function, vests in relatively few individuals skills that are privately appropriated and acquired in order to be sold. Professionalization, in sum, is aimed at monopoly: monopoly of opportunities in a market of services or labor and, inseparably, monopoly of status and work privileges in an occupational hierarchy. From both forms of monopoly a special rent or special benefits can be extracted. Controlling the supply of professionals (by means of monopolized training and certification) allows successful professionalization movements to obtain monetary returns for their constituents well above the specific costs of training qualified professional workers. Special freedoms and privileges are also insured by the control of supply and the monopoly of expertise: whether provided by a “free” professional entrepreneur or by a salaried professional worker, professional services are seldom subjected to the characteristic forms of discipline and control under which “ordinary” labor power is typically expended in capitalist societies. The control of supply combines the effects of relative scarcity with the privileges claimed in the name of expertise-expertise that is equated with formal training and “measured” in degrees and years of schooling. For the French sociologists Christian Baudelot, Roger Establet, and Jacques Malemort, professional privilege is but a variant of petit bourgeois status: the status of “any special group whose place in the relations of production allows it to enjoy, under a variety of juridical forms (commercial profit, honorariums, salary, etc.), a share of the surplus value extracted from the proletariat by the capitalists” (9, pp. 156-157). They note, suggestively, that “the present organization of ‘free’ medicine offers to small tradesmen the image of the successful small business” (9, p. 274). But ideological affinities do not make a class out of such differently situated “special groups” as physicians, or engineers, and shopkeepers. In their analysis of professional incomes, Baudelot and his co-authors suggest, in fact, that professional workers enjoy a special monopolistic rent. They calculate the portions of the average salaries of professionals and administrators (cadres) which exceed the generously overestimated costs of replacing such qualified labor power-i.e. costs of acquiring their credentials, amortization of living expenses during their prolonged training, costs of maintaining their special skills (including the expenses incurred for “cultivated” forms of leisure), as well as costs of putting not one but two children through similar courses of training. In 1971-1972, the excess for a French engineer was 42.6 percent of the average salary. There is no reason to doubt that some excess would be found in other countries as well: as an illustration, the average median monthly salary for eight categories of engineers in the United States was $1,418 in 1971, while the median monthly wage of

610 / Larson a male metal craftsman (Baudelot et al. take as their base the average wage of skilled manual workers) was $696 (10). The special form of monopoly which professionalization movements strove to attain was based on a complex model of market organization and control. In this model, two sets of elements-specific bodies of technical-theoretical knowledge, and actual or potential markets for skilled services or labor-which theretofore admitted relatively independent trajectories are structurally linked. However, the linkage between these two sets of elements could only be effected in the modern universitythe prototypical training institution which cumulates the production of knowledge (the research function) with the standardized production of educated workers (the transmission or teaching function). With the establishment of graded systems of public education, the university takes its place at the top of a hierarchy which both mediates and legitimizes the structure of inequality of advanced capitalist societies. “The training of the young,” says Gouldner (7, Part 11, p. 343), “is mediated by a semiautonomous group of teachers speaking in the name of the nation or society ‘as a whole’ and without any obligation to preserve any specific class’ privileges.” There is no need to agree with Gouldner’s perspective on the new class (in the formation of which universities, educators, and their typical ideology play a pivotal role) to recognize that, first, both the appearance and the reality of autonomy increase as one ascends the steps of the hierarchical educational system, and second, the appearance and the reality of autonomy vis-a-vis the dominant economic class legitimize the returns that most people expect from their “investment” in higher education. Modern professionalization movements, seeking to establish a structural link between education and its occupational returns, pioneered in a new form of property, founded on the monopolization of specific skills. In the project of professionalization, the market requires a principle of standardization and uniformity of training, which coexists, however, with principles of &standardization; the latter are introduced by the concern with collective social ascension and special status and reinforced by the typical individualism of the professional ideology. While standardization of training and credentials supports the illusion of homogeneity and parity of status in “communities” of professionals, destandardization (and the internal stratification it produces) denies the illusion of professional community. We begin to glimpse here the complex and contradictory nature of real professions in class societies. As a structure which links education to occupation, status privilege to meritocratic legitimation, and universalistic access to monopolization and to the inevitable scarcity of superordinate work positions, the model of profession cannot be equated with any stable or homogeneous real group. In order to pass from this general model to the groups that claim the label of professional in contemporary capitalist societies, we must specify further how the project of professionalization evolved in a changing historical context. FROM THE MODEL OF PROFESSION TO THE IDEOLOGY OF PROFESSIONALISM Capitalism immensely accelerates and expands the penetration of market relations into new areas of social activity, but capitalism cannot be reduced to market relations

Professionalism / 61 1 or production for exchange. Historically, the first phase of modern professionalization coincided, in England, with the consolidation of the capitalist mode of production and with capitalist industrialization: professional services became commodities, sold on the market and accessible to all who could buy them. This, however, did not necessarily and of itself change the character of the service, or the manner in which it was administered. In fact, the most innovative aspects of modern professionalization, the focus of advocated change, resided in training, in the production of professional producers. Standardized training tends to objectify professional services: the measure of uniformity which it introduces makes the professional commodity distinct from competing services, identifiable above and beyond the irreducible individuality of the professional provider. Furthermore, standardized training appears to found the price of professional services on an illusion of quantity-“equivalent” and measurable units of training, measured performances in examinations. But the scope of this objectification is necessarily limited. First of all, as I suggested above, standardized training is also destandardized by the hierarchy of educational prestige which distinguishes certain schools, certain teachers, and certain degrees as “better” than others. Standardization of training in a sense creates the illusion of a common, unified dimension on which “equivalent” units of training can be ranked, and thus lose their “equivalence.” Secondly, however standardized or destandardized, the professional skills that are imparted and acquired in order to be applied (that is, exchanged and sold) are vested in individuals: the “impersonal” skills of the professional are therefore inseparable from his social and personal attributes, even though modern professionalization claims that skills can be separately and objectively evaluated. Thirdly, the first professions to organize on a market basis-medicine and the law-provided services that were (and still are) “personal,” immediately used or consumed by the buyer. In this kind of market transaction, that which makes a commodity useful to or needed and wanted by the consumer (its use-value) can be realized or appropriated as the service is being delivered (or as the commodity is being “produced”). The immediate realization of use-value is a distinctive characteristic of the classic professional commodity, sold on the market by the direct producer, purchased and used by the consumer “as need arises.” Indeed, like the craftsman or the petty commodity producer, the independent professional producer was neither directly subjected to capitalist relations of production nor contributed directly to the accumulation of capital, since his services could be immediately appropriated by any buyer. The ideology of the first market professions reflects and transposes elements of this structural situation: the ideal of universal service reflects the equalizing and democratizing effects of the market (equalizing if compared to aristocratic patronage, which reserved professional services or labor for the use of an elite). The ideology of classlessness, in turn, appears to be founded on the classic professional independence from capitalist relations of production. However, the older market professions did not attain their monopolistic goals until the first decades of the 20th century, in the period of transition to the corporate phase of capitalism. This phase is marked by the ever-increasing extension of market relations and by the growth of different forms of control over the market, controls which contribute to transform the structure of domestic and international markets.

612 I Larson Competition-not in the abstract but mediated in concrete situations by the struggle of capital and labor-“constrained capital to enhance productivity, lest it be destroyed by others who did so” (7, Part I, p. 171). However, limited and managed competition tends to sever the link between profit and the productivity of capital. In much the same way, the returns to occupational “properties” tend to be dissociated from occupational performances by certain types of work organization: to the examples of seniority and tenure mechanisms must be added the typical professional claim of total and exclusive authority to judge professional performances-a claim which, if honored, allows a profession to “conceal its failures and any resulting disparity between its performances and its incomes” (7, Part I, p. 171). At the level of the structure of employment, the apparently contradictory movement of market extension and market “negation” means, among other things, that all forms of labor power tend to be sold for wages or salary. They are either subsumed under capitalist relations of production or under the state apparatus; in both cases the bureaucratic mode of work organization tends to be the predominant one. It is in this phase that the model of profession, first projected in the structural context of competitive capitalism, is both implemented by the classic older professions and generalized. By generalized I mean two things: (a) the privileges collectively gained by the classic professions pass into a public image of profession, or, in different terms, the special rents and benefits extracted from cognitive monopoly come to be associated in the public’s mind with professional roles; and (b) the model of profession, divorced from the structural matrix within which it was formed, is adopted as a strategy by occupations which are in radically different situations with regard to the market and t o capitalist relations of production than were the classic protagonists of the first professionalization movements. Elements of the model of profession which had structural roots in the position of medicine, law, or architecture in earlier times are thus transposed to the different structural situations of these or newer professions: in this passage these elements combine into a typical ideology. Professionalism is, in my view, a part, or a variant, of the dominant ideology of advanced capitalist societies, an ideology which is by no means futed or monolithic but rather changing and contradictory. Ideology becomes dominant or hegemonic when it is rooted in everyday life, shaping and penetrating ordinary consciousness, so widely shared that it appears to be common sense, taken-for-granted, and refractory to reflexivity but not impossible to break through. I would say, tentatively, that the dominant ideology contains the most general accounts of historical and contemporary processes, the most general beliefs attached to social practices and institutions, and, most importantly, the historically specific (and tacit) “rules” of ideological production. Partial ideologies, rooted in specific segments of social reality, contribute elaborations, accounts, and beliefs, which are neither congruent nor unified, t o the dominant ideology. Ideologies both describe reality and falsify it: if for no other reason than because the legitimating function of ideology-to elicit consent and conformity with existing social arrangements-requires that social reality be tacitly construed as “the best possible one” or “the only one likely to be actualized.” Partial ideologies differ

‘1 cannot enter here into a discussion of ideology, or of this ideology, but an indication of the sense in which I am provisionally using the term can be found in references 11-15.


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in the degree to which they are integrated and congruent with the dominant ideology. Now, there may be “a core of emancipatory elements even in a hegemonic ideology,” which may be turned against ideology itself (1 1, p. 50); it follows that partial ideologies vary also in “emancipatory” content or potential. From this point of view, the ideology of professionalism describes a social reality (the real social relations under which some professionals are subsumed, the real nature of some professional skills and practices) at the same time that it gives imaginary accounts of this reality, eliciting conformity with it as a whole and with the larger social context. Professionalism also contains potentially emancipatory elements: the most significant are, in my view, the claim of work autonomy and self-control, together with the aspiration to “serve” human needs and to produce worthy, “high-quality” objects or services. To return to where we started, the ideology of professionalism that emerges with the generalization of the professional strategy is an ideologv (with all the complexity implied by the term). As such, it serves a legitimating function and contributes to the perpetuation of existing social arrangements. It is typical because it combines in characteristic form diverse elements which are either acquired or confirmed in the passage through academic systems. With specific variations, these elements constitute an ideological complex which may well be the most significant common trait shared by the diverse and otherwise incomparable occupations that claim professional status. I will briefly examine now some structural correlates of this “passage” from the model of profession to the ideology of professionalism. In our century, the so-called “second wave” of professionalization, which is particularly visible in and characteristic of the United States, has different protagonists than the earlier professionalization movements. New functional areas of the division of labor (e.g. librarianship, city planning), new specialized roles in the private sector (engineering, real estate, and, more generally, all the functions that result from the dismemberment of capitalist entrepreneurship), new specialties in the public or semipublic sector (social work, hospital administration, school superintendency), and newly differentiated technical specialties within older professional fields (auxiliary specializations in medicine and the law, interior decoration, landscape architecture) become “professionalized” in the United States, and identifiable in other countries. This means that these occupations attempt t o gain exclusive jurisdiction by means of certification and licensing and some, if not most of them, attempt to justify this exclusiveness by following the institutional strategy of the older professions. In the United States, where this is easier because of the vocational openness of higher education, they attempt to establish a foothold in the university system. What is remarkable in this phase is that both older professions and new occupations aspiring to their status are integrally related to organizations which delegate authority and control their personnel by bureaucratic means. For old and new professionals, these organizations act as training centers, as employers, as sponsors and certifiers, or as indispensable resources. Chief among these bureaucracies are the state and the various units of its complex apparatus, the modern business corporation, and the modern university. As I have argued elsewhere (8, Ch. l l ) , the relations with heteronomous organizations (or the position within them) determine structural differences among professionalized occupations and, internally, among sectors of one profession. To cite but a few brief examples: the intimate connection with an

614 I Larson industrial sector, itself dependent on the state apparatus via defense expenditures, determines the fate of the professional specialty of aerospace engineering; the connection with teaching hospitals, ranked in terms of power, resources, and prestige, determines to a large extent ranking and authority within the medical profession; similarly, the institutional stratification of universities and departments within them is correlated with the productivity of individuals (and directly or indirectly with their prestige and positions) within academic disciplines. I will approach some of the general differences among and within professions by examining two interrelated issues: (a) the relationships between professional occupations and bureaucratic organizations; and (b) the position of professional occupations with regard to the larger structure of social inequality. PROFESSIONAL OCCUPATIONS AND BUREAUCRATIC ORGANIZATIONS The newer professions typically emerge within preconstituted institutional domains or functional jurisdictions. In the domain of both the multifunctional corporation and the state agency, the services of the “new” professionals tend to be consumed as pure use-values: that is, they do not pass through an open market but are either directly applied and retained within the corporation or provided, generally for free, to the diverse clienteles of the welfare state. Logically, the fee-for-service form of professional remuneration tends to disappear. Here, however, we must introduce a double distinction between the professionalizing specialties of the private corporate sector and those of the state sector: first, and more abstractly, the former exchange their labor power directly for a share of the surplus value extracted by the capitalist firm (their labor is, in Marxist terminology, “productive”), while the latter exchange it for a part of fiscal revenue (their labor is “unproductive”) (1 6 , 17). Second, for the professionalizing occupations that arise in the shadow of the state (teaching, school administration, social work, and public health specialties are the most typical), the establishment of professional identity is inseparable from the defense of a public service or, in other words, from the consolidation of a nonrepressive state function. Historically, public services in education and health have been the stake, if not directly the outcome, of political struggles in which the working class and the labor movement have preeminently fought, even in the United States. Thus, in the case of public service professionals, the defense of their own organizational function overlaps at least in part with the defense of public and mostly free services. Although the defense of collective occupational position may well clash with the interests of the clients or with those of a hypothetical “general public,” professional identity is tied to services that tend to be consumed as use-values by broad segments of the population. It is neither directly nor necessarily dependent on capitalist profits. Thus, in the context of the welfare state, it may indeed be the case, as T. H. Marshall believed, that “the professions are being socialized and the social and public services are being professionalized” (18, p. 172), although we cannot presume the “emancipatory” potential of the process. For the professions or professionalizing specialties which are anchored in the business corporation, the public defense of their organizational function cannot be


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separated from the general defense of capitalist enterprise. Yet, a more careful analysis must take into account the relative autonomy of the knowledge and skills that are claimed by professional occupations. Public service professions tend to constitute a formal academic base a posteriori, after bureaucratic organization has generated areas of expertise and potential monopolization. The same is true of the specialties, from data processing to sales, spawned by the dismemberment of the entrepreneurial function and the complex marketing procedures of the modern business corporation. At the level of training, “professional” schools of business or communications multiply specialized certifications which respond to the existence of differentiated organizational functions or “spaces.” It must be noted here that access t o the extremely diversified curricular offerings of the modern university facilitates, on the one hand, the creation of “artificial” knowledge bases: aspiring professions, once they have entered the academic system, can put together composite theoretical systems taken from a variety of formally distinct disciplines. On the other hand, the practice of purely academic gestation can be followed in response to or even in anticipation of employer demand. For instance, the growing organization of specialized university programs in gerontology can be seen as an effort to capture some of the funds which the state allocates to the problems of old age. In turn, these resources are allocated by the state out of a legitimate concern with the changing age structure of advanced industrial societies, a concern which is activated by various organizations representing or catering to the needs of senior citizens. In this context, the issue of competition with other groups of workers in the field is not resolved or advanced by “academicization” but rather postponed until after the certified gerontologists hit the labor market and the various service agencies. Nevertheless, other professions, such as engineering and possibly accountancy, which are just as firmly attached t o the business corporation as marketing or advertising, can claim a more autonomous theoretical-technical base and a more original research function than the latter specialties. In special historical circumstances, their scientific base and control over technology gave engineers an ideological base on which to attempt a technocratic attack o n the corporation (19, 20). As Gouldner points out, underlying the paradigms applied by the technical intelligentsia are the culture and the ideology of critical discourse. However deeply buried under conformism and social conservatism, the culture of critical discourse demands that people ‘‘give reasons”: “they cannot rely upon their position in society or in their science to justify technical decisions” (7, Part I, pp. 177 fJ). Functionally rational concerns with “the technical effectiveness of means” deny and can destroy all forms of “sacredness” and of authority not sanctioned by scientific “rules of speech” (7, Part 11, pp. 349-351). For Gouldner as for Veblen (21), herein lies the revolutionary potential of the technical intelligentsia. Without going so far or so deep, we may note a more obvious feature of cognitive autonomy: a skill or a knowledge imparted and certified by institutions other than those that buy skilled labor power represents for its possessors an independent market asset. The more autonomous the knowledge on which the skill is based, the more the value of the skill appears to be independent from the relations its holder enters after having sold his labor. This independence is, in fact, both the goal and the rationale of professionalization movements.

616 / Larson Credentials and Professionalism within the Organization For all the occupations that seek to establish independent forms of training and certification, the diploma (i.e. externally certified expertise) appears to reduce the discretionary power inherent in heteronomous bureaucratic hierarchies: it appears to force bureaucratic employers to accept and rely upon criteria of recruitment determined by independent agencies. Insofar as employers accept diplomas as entry requirements, an academic base appears to be a protection built around a specialized function. It gives the holders of diplomas an advantage over other workers who are either direct competitors on the labor market or social foils. The effectiveness of this advantage varies, however, and the variations largely depend on both the employers’ inability or unwillingness to substitute noncertified workers for the certified (at a cheaper price, of course) and the employers’ felt need for the “positive externalities” that seem to come with the diploma. As Weber had already pointed out at the beginning of our century, bureaucratic “rationality” necessarily depends on qualifying examinations and credentials, as did modern professionalization movements. For the career bureaucrat, examinations insure the predictability of promotions while educational certificates establish his “right to office.” It is the bureaucrat’s inherent tendency to “status group closure” that increasingly leads organizations to consider “offices as ‘prebends’ of those who are qualified by educational certificates” (22, pp. 203-204). It is precisely among the largest and most bureaucratized employers that diplomas became first and the most rapidly a requirement for recruitment (23). Now, from the point of view of bureaucratic management, externally administered training and certification have several advantages which I will mention briefly. First of all, these advantages are free to the private employer (and from a budgetary point of view, they are also free to the state employer). Second, outside training relieves the employer, at least in part, of substantial in-house training. Third, the educational system provides indispensable screening at multiple and intertwined levels: it offers to potential employers a labor force hierarchically classified by standardized degrees which represent apparently measurable equivalents (years of study). But also, the prestige ranking of academic institutions destandardizes the objectified “value” of B.A.3, M.S.’s, B.M.A.3, LL.D’s, etc. Academic stratification thus offers to employers a more refined “second degree” screening for high-level jobs in terms of cultural compatibilities or presumed ideological allegiances. Fourth, and in consequence, the screening operated by the combined standardization/destandardization of degrees establishes differential “rights of entry” for different jobs and gives management some guarantees that the inevitable discretion at the level of execution (discretion which increases as one ascends the organizational hierarchy) will not be grossly abused or subverted. Finally, diplomas may also represent a process of entry and socialization into a reference group-the profession, the discipline, or even perhaps, as Gouldner believes, the new class-which is external to and independent from the employing organization. The sociology of professions has often assumed that effective professional socialization would easily lead to a conflict between profession and bureaucracy; this


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assumption rests on the notions that the professional and the bureaucrat have different and antagonistic personalities and that professional autonomy and self-regulation conflict with bureaucratic management. Something that is vaguely and superficially related to the culture of critical discourse can be glimpsed in the assumed background of such hypothetical conflicts, but we can for the moment leave it aside. Closer to the surface, external reference groups such as the profession or the discipline may yield for management still other benefits, subtler than those listed above and contingent upon specific organizational conditions. Numerous studies have pointed out that the “professionality” of the personnel allows management the option of keeping these expensive employees happy by offering them promotions and privileges on a professional ladder, as opposed to a managerial one (8, pp. 190-199). One may also speculate that the occupational identity of professional employees allows management to keep them working individually, in relative isolation from each other and unable to form a “united professional front” against managerial encroachments or shortcomings. At the same time, however, the encouragement to form outside connections and seek outside contacts with professional colleagues may compensate for the dangers of low morale inherent in work isolation. Gouldner and Ritti (24) have shown that encouraging professional activities or professionalization moves was a strategy deliberately adopted by management to palliate the discontent of employees whose organizational mobility was blocked (and, we may add, who might have been tempted by unionization). Indeed, as I shall point out later in more detail, professional reference groups do provide in some cases hierarchical and positional benefits of their own, which may substitute for those that are absent or deficient in the work place. Moreover, bureaucratic organizations may always rely on bureaucratic control and regulations to limit the potentially negative consequences of professional autonomy. As William Goode has shown, profession is a form of organization which protects its members collectively and thereby absolves the reciprocal function of protecting the inept; bureaucratic controls, however, “lower the chances of catastrophic individual failure by the inept,” for bureaucracy, in a sense, aspires to do what the machine does: to “embody a control system which diminishes the range of possible error on the part of the individual worker” (25, pp. 140 and 142). Where bureaucracy ends, or fails, professionalism can take over, and vice versa. The intertwining of bureaucratic and professional controls leads us to a general proposition: if we consider profession as a special system of work control, then the claim or the defense of professional prerogatives by members of a bureaucratic organization cannot be interpreted as necessarily antibureaucratic; it must be analyzed, rather, in terms of the specific dynamics and circumstances of each organization. Management, as we have seen, can instrumentalize the professional aspirations of employees. For some employees, in turn, the assertion of professional status may represent a more or less hopeful form of corporative resistance to compulsory rationalization and loss of control. In hospitals, universities, social agencies, and more recently, the courts, well-established professional prerogatives “come increasingly into contradiction with the economics and politics of productivity” (26, p. 102). But in different situations, new bureaucratic rules of promotion and recruitment, for instance, may represent “new or revised dominance patterns, through which older, established professions are obliged to honor the claims of the emergent ones,”

618 I Larson and not a victory of bureaucratic rationalization (27, p. 390). In sum, for real groups involved at critical points in real conflicts, the ideological images associated with either bureaucracy or profession may serve as ideological resources and weapons in struggles and negotiations. In the setting of real work organizations, internal order is negotiated through political processes which define the meaning of professional claims. Because the consequences of professionalization are structural and relational, they cannot be reduced to personality attributes or typical “orientations” of individuals: in the heteronomous context of bureaucratic organizations, profession thus becomes a subordinate or secondary conceptual tool. But what, then, of the fact that constituted professions can exist as external reference groups for their employed members? Professionalism and the Production of Knowledge I have indicated above some of the ways in which the independent existence of professions can be invoked or used by different groups engaged in intraorganizational strategies. I want to show now the organizational specificity of those professions which control the production of relevant knowledge or, in other words, their own research function. These considerations equally and directly apply to the next issue to be discussed, that of the specific position of different professions with regard to the general structure of social inequality. I derive these comments from Pierre Bourdieu’s (28,29) brilliant analysis of scientific and artistic fields. Like other academic disciplines, the professions that control their research function constitute cognitive fields, the structure of which at a given time coincides with the distribution among significant protagonists of what Bourdieu calls “symbolic capital.” rhis analogical term stands for the fusion of technical-theoretical skill and social power which constitutes scientific (or, more generally, intellectual) authority. In each field, the stake of competition and struggles among participants who have satisfied the specific rights of entry and acknowledged the tacit rules of discourse is a specific kind of symbolic capital. The strategies of the participants depend on their position in the field, itself determined by the amount of symbolic capital that has been previously accumulated. Some types of position are generally found in all fields; thus, the contest between the “elders” and the “new entrants” tends to be, in all cognitive fields, a typical and recurrent form of struggle. The accumulation of symbolic capital-the career in a field-is a function of the initial capital brought by the new members upon their entry. As Bourdieu emphasizes, the right of entry (the relevant diplomas) already contains a probable trajectory: it allows reasonable expectations about productivity and recognition both to the holder of a standardized/ destandardized degree and to those who control the rewards within a field. Symbolic capital and hierarchical positions in a specific field obviously can be translated into economic gains and positions of general social power; thus, the organic connections of professional elites with external apparatuses or hierarchies of power appear to coincide with their internal position as the holders of legitimate (and legitimately monopolized) symbolic capital. However, within a field of intellectual or scientific competition, outside rewards have meaning only if they can at the same time be interpreted by the competing professional peers as legitimate marks of scientific or scholarly achievement, as expressions of recognized intellectual authority.

Professionalism / 619 What should be emphasized here is that the autonomy of knowledge (in the relative sense of professions which control their research function and the tacit rules by which knowledge is produced) generates internal hierarchies and internal structures of inequality within specific intellectual fields. By virtue of these internal structures, which mediate and filter general social rewards, the position of the participants in a cognitive field is overdetennined with regard to general structures of inequality. Because the participants accept, by definition, this mediation, and because they accept the expert judgment of their peers, professional elites are doubly dominant within their respective fields: the fusion of technical-theoretical authority and social power functions, internally, as a most powerful mechanism of dominance and cooptation. Professional and intellectual elites do not merely control the systems of rewards and recognition through which reputations are made and deadly anonymity is broken; they also control the very power to define the practice of a field and to transmit this mostly tacit definition to the entrants, as an inevitable part of the rights or costs of entry. In the natural sciences, the elites increasingly control the material means of scientific production; in all intellectual fields, they tend to monopolize the mechanisms of accumulation of symbolic capital. As Bourdieu’s analysis convincingly suggests, the strategies available to the new cohorts of scientific or intellectual workers may be strategies of succession or strategies of challenge: they nevertheless emerge on the background of constituted fields, to which both heir-apparents and challengers belong. This background is the doxa, “the consensus about the objects of dissensus, the common interests whence originate the conflicts of interests, all that which is never discussed and never even thought, because it is tacitly kept outside the limits of the struggle” (28, p. 100). It is in this profound sense that disciplines and professions which create their own knowledge have their own specific principles of organization and their own capacity for defining and distributing the symbolic capital or the specific rewards of a cognitive field. It is this capacity, based on the control of cognitive production, that differentiates professions sociologically, not the more or less theoretical, more or less abstract, more or less difficult-to-master content of their cognitive base. It is the capacity for defining and distributing symbolic capital (or, more precisely, the means of access to symbolic capital accumulation) that tends to reconstitute certain professions or disciplines on the model of the guild. Since symbolic capital consists in the authority to define the dominant practices of a field and those who give the definitions will take their own practices as implicit models, the strategies of succession developed by new entrants and those of perpetuation developed by the “reigning elites” depend in large part on networks and personal connections. These strategies tend to fuse personalistic mechanisms of “intellectual inheritance” and favoritism that is never totally extrinsic with objective and objectified achievement-as objective as those who control symbolic capital accumulation in a field consciously or unconsciously allow it to be. In seeking to understand or to compare the strategies developed by or applied to professionals and professional groups, it is extremely important to identify the different hierarchies on which these groups or individuals may be positioned, and to assess the homology or the discrepancy between hierarchies and positions. It would

620 I Larson be misleading to assume, for instance, that untenured faculty members in a physics department of a middle-range university, interns in a teaching hospital, engineers who start their careers in a given factory, and beginning social workers in a public agency are all in homologous situations just because they belong to the most recent and presumably least powerful cohort of a given professional field. Where some may be accumulating symbolic capital, to be later translated into general social rewards, the others may not. Where some may develop “independent” career lines in a heteronomous organization, the others may still have to reverse or surmount handicaps implicit in their initial “investments” in education (e.g. the unfavorable ranking of the school where they obtained their degree, or “initial capital”). Where they may all be exposed to the fluctuations of the labor markets, some may in addition be vulnerable to the special political marginality that threatens not so much the heterodox as those who dare challenge the doxa-isn’t this, indeed, how “conscience does make cowards of us all”? We have examined the “fit” between externally certified expertise and bureaucratic work organizations, indicating that profession cannot be used as an independent or even principal analytical category to understand conflict and negotiation processes within these organizations. We have also suggested two dimensions along which professional occupations can be sociologically differentiated: the first is the defense of institutional domains, which distinguishes the public service professions from those in the private sector; the second is the capacity for generating internal structures of authority and inequality, a capacity which constitutes professions that control their own research function into accessory or mediating systems of social stratification. PROFESSIONAL OCCUPATIONS AND THE STRUCTURE OF INEQUALITY

I will not address here the question of the class location of professionals, employed or self-employed. General problems of class location in advanced capitalist societies have been abundantly studied in recent years (6, 7, 9, 30-36). Without entering into the details of these studies, I think that a distinction should be made between what one might provisionally call class location and class situation. To put it in a sketchy and rudimentary way, location is abstract and structural (comprehensible, that is, as an element in a complex structure, articulated by complex relations), while situation is concrete and historically specific. Problems of location concern, I think, the place of individuals or groups in the structure of relations of production, which are relations of both property and control; individuals or groups may have the same location in different social structures and even the same prospects for the future (e.g. the various groups which occupy the position of “exploiters” and “exploited” or “rulers” and “ruled” or “intermediate” groups in different societies). Problems of situation are shaped by the developmental tendencies of a concrete social formation and focused on the mediations and articulations between different structural levels. As I was implying above in the case of professional workers, we need a method that will allow us to distinguish the situation of groups or individuals who have the same location, e.g. semiskilled unionized workers in the declining industries of depressed areas and semiskilled unorganized workers in the productive industries of rapid growth areas; their situation includes cultural, ideological, and sociopsychological elements attached

Professionalism I 62 1 both to what is similar and to what is different, at various levels, in their structural location. Professionalization and Proletarianization Short of having such a method, I will provisionally adopt and qualify the somewhat different notion of contradictory class locations developed by Eric Olin Wright (34). These class locations, so Wright argues, are only partly determined by the social relations of production and are clustered at the boundaries of the three major classesthe capitalist bourgeoisie, the proletariat, and the petty bourgeoisie. Without accepting the details of Wright’s classification (in particular, the importance still given to formal property and the narrow definition of the petty bourgeoisie as a “noncontradictory location”), its principle can be applied to professionals: their main source of revenue is their work, for it is through their work that they can claim, directly or indirectly, a share of surplus value. Even though their considerable incomes allow privileged professionals to own far from negligible assets in the capitalist units that extract surplus value directly, it is not through this form of property that professionals control the process of production. What control they have is as “cultural proprietors,” as possessors of scarce expertise. All professionals enjoy a measure of discretionary control in their work, as, in fact, do most workers, excluding assembly-line operatives; for professionals, however, the relevance and scarcity of the monopolized skill guarantee control at the level of execution and tend t o push it “upwards”-from the technical to the more visibly social level of work conditions and even, sometimes, policy decisions. Moreover, in the professions that control the production of their own knowledge, the accumulation of “cultural property” or symbolic capital can be ordinarily translated into general social power. In terms of Wright’s classification, most professionals would presumably fall in the contradictory location of semiautonomous employees, situated between the proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie. To them applies, therefore, Wright’s additional hypothesis: insofar as class relations are contradictory, political and ideological relations become determinant of class position. Or, in other words, political and ideological relations “complete” the partial determination of class at the economic level. Now, the source of the advantages that professional positions ordinarily enjoy over typically proletarian occupations appears to reside in the control of scarce and valued expertise. One of the principal justifications invoked for differential pay is the investment of time and money necessary to acquire the credentials that prove expertise; in a graded educational system that is ostensibly based on merit, the “higher” (and scarcer) credentials are implicitly equated with esoteric skills and above-average intelligence. Cultural property stages its claims t o differential pay, differential treatment, and exceptional discretion in the labor process on a complex ideological background. We could thus specify Wright’s hypothesis as follows: the more secure a professional monopoly, the better it “fits” with the dominant ideology and the more it protects its beneficiaries from the direct effects of capitalist relations of production. Within these protected spheres, the beneficiaries of cultural property find themselves in complex articulated situations in which political relations and the ideology of



professionalism play a determinant role. The principal elements of this ideology, which I cannot develop here, are: (a) a variety of bourgeois individualism, based on the private appropriation of socially produced skills, which emphasizes “demiurgic power,” i.e. the power of the expert to help resolve by his intervention and selfdetermined actions problems which he does not “own”; (b) the belief in the class neutrality of science, technology, and, in general, rational knowledge; (c) the invocation of scientific or, in general, rational knowledge, as principal and almost sole legitimator for hierarchies of authority and for the differential privileges attached to hierarchical positions; (d) and as a corollary of this legitimating principle, the denial of scientific or rational validity to statements or speakers based on traditional or extracognitive authority; (e) a tacit emphasis on the separation of conception and execution, with a tacit assertion of the former’s superiority (superiority of mental over manual labor); ( f ) alternatively or even simultaneously, appeals to the superiority of codified and formally transmissible abstract knowledge and to the superiority of noncodified, indeterminate knowledge that can only be transmitted through experience (“charisma”); and (g) as “emancipatory” elements, the ideology of profession carries within it both epistemological claims that contain a potential challenge to all traditional authority and moral claims which it shares with the ideals of craftsmanship and which implicitly or explicitly deny the profit motive and the capitalist organization of production: the claim of autonomy over one’s work and the emphasis placed on the quality of work performances and of products. Control over esoteric and scarce skills is, in itself, only a partial explanation of professional privilege. Indeed, skilled craftsmen, whose skills were often as refined and scarce as those of professionals, have been among the main victims of proletarianization, loss of control over work, and degradation of skills. Something much larger than scarcity of skills, something that has to do with the historical transformations of social structures, with the traces they leave on symbolic systems, with the latter’s own dynamics, something that is characteristic of a civilization goes into the making of professional privilege. There is, at the broadest level, the question of how skills are socially evaluated: the ambiguous predominance of mind over matter is tied to the structure of production, to scarcity of natural and human resources, and to the attributes, functions, and legitimating ideologies of the ruling class. (It is ambiguous, I believe, because the coincidence of the division of labor with the structure of inequality is imperfect and the implicit “ranking” criteria are movable: the martial arts are largely manual, but the warrior castes monopolize them; the surgeon’s skill is also based in large part on manual dexterity, yet appears to be valued precisely for this “gift”.) At a lower level of generality, there is the question of rewards, differentially accorded by different societies to scarce but unequally valued skills. Rewards are inseparable from the monopolistic tendencies that deliberately manipulate scarcity in order to secure rewards; but monopoly can not insure that what it controls is desirable and/or necessary for large or significant social groups. Thus, because professional monopoly is partly dependent on ideology (or on the “fit” between expertise, culture, and ideology), it brings us once again to the larger questions about the content and internal structure of dominant symbolic systems and the complex mediations which link structure to ideology. Here we can suggest, more narrowly, that professional




expertise-for historical reasons that are both “spurious” and “authentic,” both extrinsic and intrinsic to what is claimed-represents the kind of skills and knowledge that are, on the one hand, refractory to mechanization and cybernation and, on the other hand, required and elicited by these two processes of destruction and elimination of “lower” levels of skill. Thus, in the history of capitalist societies, professionalization appears as the other side of proletarianization, for privilege is a relational concept, incomprehensible outside the structure of inequality which defines it. The privileges sought or attained by professionalization movements are, in other words, inseparable from non-privilege. As Marx described the capitalist division of labor (37, Part I, p. 361): Intelligence in production expands in one direction because it vanishes in many others. What is lost by the detail laborers is concentrated in the capital that employs them.

We may add that intelligence is increasingly concentrated in those who plan the successive embodiments and refinements of the constant part of capital-machines, technologies, organization. In capitalist industry, the higher skills or knowledge of a minority of producers rest on the expropriation of skill or knowledge from the majority. In the process of concentration, the nature of knowledge relevant to production changes, as do the social barriers established around it. The new forms of knowledge, equated with the forms of their acquisition, achieve the transformation of the unschooled into the unskilled. The bridge of schooling is passed only by a minority, even if its numbers exceed the “intelligent” jobs that are available. This process, epitomized by the scientific management movement, has been analyzed since its onset; it is now amply documented (20, 38-44). Science and technology do not enter capitalist production because of some transcendent concern with “neutral” rationality and “neutral” conceptions of efficiency, but rather as managerial weapons in the class struggle, as instruments for taming working-class resistance. Struggle and resistance are resurgent and multiform, but as the gap between management and the working class and that between conception and execution becomes deeper, it also becomes permanent: as they grow, the superordinate functions of control, supervision, and planning are increasingly entrusted to college graduates. In our time, it is also clear that the characteristic polarization of skills in capitalist industry (i.e. the dual process which concentrates increasingly high levels of skill in a minority of producers as it degrades or eliminates skilled human interventions for the majority of workers at lower levels) cannot continue beyond the limits where automation altogether bypasses unskilled, repetitive work. It is also clear, however, that polarization does not spare mental work: the progressive “deskilling” of clerical work by the typewriter and other technologies culminates in electronic data processing, which holds the possibility of rendering redundant functions that once required not insignificant levels of skill. At the same time, the polarizing movement extends to technical activities, including those born of the computer (45,46). THE UNCERTAIN STRATEGY OF PROFESSIONALIZATION For the older professions that organized in relative independence from capitalist relations of production, monopoly of expertise was the road to “surplus privilege,”

624 I Larson e.g. remuneration above the costs of reproduction of their own labor and relative immunity to heteronomous controls. For the younger specialties that are either spawned by the capitalist process of production or absorbed into it, attaining professional privileges appears as the other side of the loss of skills and control suffered by the majority of workers. Thus, when groups of specialized mental workers autonomously adopt the strategy of the older professions, they may in fact be seeking something more, or something different, than surplus privilege; upgrading and defending a corporative work position may be an anticipatory move, for it, too, can at some point be threatened by compulsory rationalization. Under hierarchical and undemocratic relations of production, privileges can be granted or won, but they always have a cost. Even though the strategy of professionalization may contain the aspirations of a group of producers for autonomy and “disinterested” involvement in quality work, it cannot be entirely innocent or clearly emancipatory in the present context: a strategy based on academic training and certification implicitly discredits and often succeeds in displacing skills and knowledge de fact0 possessed by other people. The intentions tacitly conveyed by the certification in gerontology ultimately require the displacement or the replacement of companions and housekeepers, in the same way that child-care specialists, armed with their degrees in early-childhood education, ultimately aspire to relegate the old lady next door to the benighted past. As Harry Braverman points out, the “universal market” accelerates all other trends toward dependence on commodities and on commodified services: the “atrophy of competence” of the general public and the attempts by “the pros” to build protective walls around their often spurious expertise go hand in hand (38, p. 281). But how effective are exclusionary strategies for either obtaining or protecting work privileges? First of all, for professionalizing specialties subsumed under capitalist relations of production or exposed in public bureaucracies to hierarchical command and to an ever-growing fiscal crisis, these strategies are effective for as long as the employing organizations are willing or able to honor externally certified experiise and pay its price. Second, the academic strategy is based on the fact that a college degree establishes a clear statistical cut between a minority of the labor force and the rest; the generalization of this strategy leads to the more or less rapid overproduction and market devaluation of credentials, reversing the scarcity calculation on which the strategy is based (at both the level of individuals and that of professional organizations). Since desirable jobs and superordinate positions are finite, generalized professionalization upgrades the rights of entry without any clear benefits to the entrant (47). Thirdly, professionalization strategies aspire to leave other occupations behind: the generalization therefore tends to augment and exacerbate jurisdictional disputes. These disputes are not likely to be resolved into a clear pattern of occupational dominance (or hierarchical organization of functional areas) such as that established by medicine-and possibly by medicine alone-in a specific area of the social division of labor. Thus, in this phase, the privileges that professionalization seeks to attach to academic credentials tend to lose their organic connection with specific positions in the social division of labor. Certification does not insure jurisdiction. Continuing and


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generalized strategies of professionaliiation tend to erode what was the core of the model of profession: the structural linkage it established between education and occupation. Beyond a minimum of discretionary control and the possibility of career (often shaped and modeled by bureaucratic hierarchy), profession tends to lose its clear reference to specific kinds of work and functions; it becomes professional status, a generic claim to a nonproletarian class location which coincides with the middle-to-higher steps of a bureaucratic ladder and involves general positional privileges in the wider structure of social inequality. These are fluid privileges, defined by intuitive and tacit comparisons with multiple and variable other groups, The essentially positional aspect of professional status opens it wide as a choice area of relative deprivation or, in certain conditions, subjective proletarianization. These conditions, I believe, are transparent under the symptoms of “personal crisis” or diffuse malaise, which sometimes blooms into the “mid-life passage” so dear to the mass media. This crisis fuses private dissatisfaction with work frustration, often leading its victims not only to divorce but also to the rejection of the once-hallowed, middle-class prescription “one life, one career” (“one marriage,” as third leg of the injunction, having been gone for a long time). From a political perspective, the problem lies as much in the personal and subjective character of these experiences as in their origin: if all professionalization really allows one to expect is positional privilege, then a perceived loss of positional advantages will evoke corporative defense as the readiest kind of collective response. This has often been the tendency of professional unions caught in the internecine struggles brought about, in particular, by the fiscal crisis. Any alliance with other groups and, in particular, with the nonprivileged will be hard to conceive and harder still to bring about. In the concern with and the defense of status and positional privilege, the emancipatory content of the ideology of professionalism risks remaining just that: an ideological theme, buried by the prescriptive implications of the other themes. Yet not all proletarianization is merely subjective; not all crises remain at the personal level. While the loss of relational advantages may indeed be due to the incursions or gains of other workers, the loss of work control is always an effect of heteronomous authority. The meaning of such experiences can be expanded beyond the boundaries of the organizations that most often insulate them. Professional organizations (or, more simply, networks), where they exist, might conceivably be used to break organizational boundaries and politicize objective situations. For this to be possible, the emancipatory elements in the ideology of professionalism must be drawn out and strengthened. Once again, in the professions that control their research function, schools and associations can generate association and promote the creation of alternative sources of recognition, thus beginning a challenge to symbolic capital and to the class use of “cultural property.” While privileged groups always tend to defend the sources of their privileges, they do not always do it consciously or at any cost; it is neither hopeless nor superfluous to clarify what those privileges are and on what they really depend. In the case of professional workers, because of the importance of political and ideological determinations, it is particularly relevant to sort out privileges that ought to be denounced from privileges that ought to be extended to all workers.

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Professionalism: rise and fall.

Original Article on Professionalism PROFESSIONALISM: RISE AND FALL Magali Sarfatti Larson Historically, the early professionahation movements in medic...
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