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News Bulletin : ADA News Bulletin December 2010
34 DECEMBER 2010 PROFESSIONALISM'S INTERFACE WITH SOCIETY In The Sociology of the Professions, Keith Macdonald insists that professions -- in order to be professions -- have a need for "social closure." They have a need to keep others out of the profession, sealing themselves into exclusive domains (Macdonald, 1995). Thus, the professions are in, but not of, a society -- they exist in self-created, often self-regulated, and self-priced bubbles. It is in a profession's interest to safeguard, regulate and husband their specialised knowledge through establishing training schools and obtaining exclusive licensure through the state. "Monopoly and credentialism are the key elements of professionalism's economic privilege" (Freidson, 2001, p. 198). It is likewise in the public's interest that those who do not have the prerequisite knowledge in their field are not licensed to practise a profession. Ideally, the professions exist with society in this sort of symbiotic relationship. Social closure, well managed, serves to protect both the profession and the public. Yet for all their exclusiveness, most professions do not practise a policy of containment. Rather, according to Macdonald, the professions seek to impinge upon other provinces and thus actively promote and expand the influence and upward social mobility of their members: "A profession does not merely mark out its domain in a bargain with the state; it has to fight other occupations for it, and not only at the time but before and after as well" (Macdonald, 1995, p. 33). Thus, professions and their associations must assertively stake out their territory, wresting parts of it from others and jealously guarding the gains made. This would make them less than ideal actors in their interface with society. Professions are interest groups and, as most interest groups do, they tend to seek their own interests first. They interface with the economic and social orders to pursue profits and prestige for their profession, not for altruism's sake. Their exclusivity may even serve to reinforce social prejudices. Macdonald says, "The occupation and its organization attempt to close access to the occupation, to its knowledge, to its education, training and credentials and to its markets in services and jobs [and this means that] only 'eligibles' will be admitted ... it may well exclude those of a particular race, gender or religion and thus play a part in the structured inequality of society" (Macdonald, 1995, p. 29). At the same time, the professions should not be discounted as totally self-seeking. Freidson comments that the terms "monopoly" and "social closure" are nearly always used pejoratively in relation to the professions. Yet, he says, some professionals are genuinely interested in protecting the integrity of the work done in their profession. Monopoly and social closure achieve this: "Concern with preserving and improving the quality of work by establishing and maintaining social closures based on training cannot be waved away" (Freidson, 2001, p. 201). As was noted in an earlier section, professions and professionals seek to exclude others for 'a little of each' of seemingly bipolar reasons: to protect their own interests (both economic and social) and to protect their profession and the public from unqualified and unethical practitioners. According to Macdonald's model, professionals seek power through legal monopolies of knowledge-based services and higher status and respectability. The legal monopoly of knowledge is granted by a contract with the state, and the base of a profession's power, in turn, is its effective monopoly of specialised knowledge. The state grants this monopoly because it needs the services of the profession, and, in so doing, the state achieves some leverage for regulation of the profession. Professionals, accordingly, gain higher status and respectability in a contract with society by establishing and adhering to values and norms. Yet knowledge, by its nature, progresses, and progress is enabled by the circuitry of the profession's interface with society. This means that society has the power to act upon the profession, even as the profession acts upon society. As a profession encounters society while plying its services, it is inevitably changed by the experience, and new knowledge is gained. Freidson makes the point that: Down at the level of everyday human experience, in schools, prisons, scientific laboratories, factories, government agencies, hospitals and the like, formal knowledge is transformed and modified by the activities of those participating in its use. Thus, the paradox that, while the institutionalization of knowledge is a prerequisite for the possibility of its connection to power, institutionalization itself requires the transformation of knowledge by those who employ it (Freidson, 1986 p. xi). A profession that does not allow itself to be changed by its interface with society is a profession doomed to decline. Yet how does a profession control new and advancing knowledge gained from interfacing with society when its existence is predicated upon corralling knowledge and dispensing it in an exclusive manner? Much of this is done through professional associations. Professional associations hold conferences and publish papers, keeping members -- and, these days, the public -- abreast of developments in the relevant profession. These associations not only have a duty to safeguard and protect the specialised knowledge of the field and to certify its attainment; they also have an obligation to keep up with innovations. In recognition of this, Lord Benson cited continuing training and acquisition of new knowledge as one of the major criteria for professionalism (Spada Limited, 2008, p. 38). The professions actively interface with society in order to keep renewing themselves and remain indispensable. Why professionalism is still relevant Part 2 By George Beaton This is the second of a two-part article by George Beaton that is published for the interest of members.
ADA News Bulletin November 2010
ADA News Bulletin February 2011