Professionalization In History Research Paper

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In modern historical scholarship, the professions include the occupations of doctors, lawyers, professors, and engineers, among others. Professions are characterized by special functions and structures, motives, representations, forms of knowledge, and sociocultural styles. Professionalization refers to processes affecting the social and symbolic construction of occupation and status. The history of the professions investigates the ways in which functional groups and status groups are regulated and institutionalized. It shows how meanings, functions, and structures develop in social and temporal context and how professions, in the restricted sense of the term, differ from the status groups and occupations of entrepreneurs, merchants and clerks, skilled manual workers (crafts, metiers) and the so-called semi-profession. Professionalization involves the formation of an occupation, on one hand, and interrelated developments regarding the social division of labor, structures of authority, and sociocultural inequality, on the other. Historical research on professionalization concentrates on such issues as the distribution of scarce resources at a particular point in time, the social definition of Behavioral prerogatives, and the regulation of central values and functions. It is concerned with the motives, interests, and strategies of actors who either promote or hinder processes of professionalization.

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Recent historical research on professionalization has tended to oscillate between individualizing historical perspectives and systematic social science perspectives. The former emphasize the peculiarities of particular professions or the special features of the professions in a particular historical context. The latter concentrate on general features and tendencies. Historical and comparative research shows that, while the professions are often concerned with the same or similar functions, problems, and tasks, these may be interpreted in different ways and institutionalized in different contexts. Similarly, depending on the characteristics of a particular profession and on the particular historical circumstances, the paths, cycles, and types of professionalization and deprofessionalization may vary. By taking these points into consideration, scholars have relativized both teleological understandings of professionalization and static conceptions of the professions.

1. Definitions Of Profession And Professionalization

Abstract and temporally undifferentiated concepts of the professions have only a heuristic value in historical research. Therefore, one usually begins with a historical explication of the concept and then asks how professionalization is articulated in a specific context with regard to the relevant dimensions in particular domains. The individual dimensions and processes are more or less closely linked in concrete historical cases. The result is that the professions and professionalism find expression in a graded series of variations. The professions are characterized ideally by the following series of interrelated dimensions. Capabilities and skills are justified scientifically or systematically. Professional knowledge is described in such terms as ‘exclusive,’ ‘more profound,’ ‘inaccessible to lay persons,’ and ‘not easily understandable.’ It is acquired in special institutions such as universities, professional schools, and internships with professionals. It forms the basis of the superiority of the professional over lay persons and clients. Also included in this body of knowledge are rules and attitudes which govern its application in a way which promotes trust between the professions and their social environment. These include formal procedures, ritual, titles, a professional habitus of studiousness, collegiality, and altruism, and a general orientation toward the common good. The professions claim for themselves a specific style of earning a living that is characterized by the principle of remuneration ‘befitting ones rank’ and through specific forms of contract and recompense. The professions demand for themselves higher prestige. They develop specific organizations for collective integration, self-administration, self-control, and for the representation of their interests, such as the ‘chartered professions’ in England, the disciplinary councils and chambers on the European continent, and, more generally, professional associations of various kinds. The professions strive for ‘autonomy.’ Viewed historically, this means, first, exiting from relations of patronage with traditional secular and clerical elites and, second, the reduction of external control and dependence on the state, on the rich and powerful, on clients or beneficiaries, and on employers.

Professionalization is a social project, which articulates itself in discourses on science, performance, honor, public welfare, and society and, in the ideology of professionalism. It is intended to secure for professionals a high or mid-range status in the system of social and cultural inequality. The historical literature distinguishes between professionalization that is externally controlled and professionalization that is controlled by the occupational groups themselves. Similarly, it distinguishes between heteronomous and autonomous professions. In the classical research on the ‘free professions,’ especially in the Anglo-Saxon literature, professionalization is understood largely from the perspective of members of the occupational groups themselves. In recent research, however, the analytical concept of professionalization is used increasingly for professionals who are occupied in state and private administrations and enterprises as well (Burrage and Torstendahl 1990, Perkin 1989, Siegrist 1988). Previously, and especially on the European continent, scholarly interest in professions such as these was often guided by concepts such as ‘higher education,’ ‘meritocracy,’ ‘bureaucracy,’ and ‘civil servants.’

The historical connection between occupational role and social status is articulated concretely in concepts such as the ‘gentlemanly professions,’ the ‘learned professions,’ or, more simply, the ‘professions’ in England and the United States; ‘professions liberales,’ ‘bourgeoisie a talents,’ ‘capacites’ in France; ‘gelehrte Stande,’ ‘hohere Berufe,’ ‘burgerliche Berufe,’ ‘mittelstandische Berufe,’ ‘Akademiker,’ and ‘Bildungsburgertum’ in the German-speaking lands of Europe; ‘professioni maggiori,’ ‘professioni nobili,’ and ‘borg- hesia unmanistica’ in Italy; ‘intellectuals’ in Western Europe and ‘intelligentsia’ in Eastern Europe (Siegrist 1988, 1996; Freidson 1986; Conze and Kocka 1985; Malatesta 1995; Charle 1996; McClelland et al. 1995). In the twentieth century, professionals express claims to membership in the middle classes through discourses on the ‘loss of middle-classness’ and the ‘threat of proletarianization.’ Under National Socialism and Fascism, the meaning of the ‘free professions’ was hollowed out, as professionals were redefined as militant ‘thinking workers,’ who took part in the ‘struggle of the Volk and the master race.’ In the communist world, the concept of the socialist intelligentsia implied the transcendence of class relations, the end of occupational privileges, and the sub- ordination of professionals to the state and the party. Modern western concepts such as ‘technocrat’ and ‘expert’ define the role and position of professionals independently of social or economic class.

2. Conceptions And History Of Professionalization And Professions

The history of the professions begins in the Middle Ages and in the early modern era with the autonomous corporate colleges of the higher professions (lawyers, physicians, university professors) and the lower professions such as surgeons and notaries (Prest 1986, Betri and Pastore 1997). The various professions have specific orders of knowledge. They enjoy privileges with regard to education, the control of access to the professions, the practice of the professions, and ethical monitoring. The specific way of earning a livelihood distinguishes the higher professions from commercial occupations and handicrafts. The institutional pattern and the mentalities of the old European corporate occupational culture varied according to the degree of the abstraction of knowledge and the social proximity to the nobility, the patriciate, and the urban bourgeoisie. As a rule, the right to practice a profession was limited to a specific territory.

The traditional culture of the professions came under pressure and began to dissolve in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In the authoritarian and bureaucratic societies of Europe, the reformed professions were ruled under the control of the state. In radical-liberal, democratic, and egalitarian societies such as France in the revolutionary era, the United States, and Switzerland in the mid-nineteenth century, the professions were largely deregulated or were established as free trades (Ramsey 1984; Siegrist 1988, 1996). The general orientation of the different professions varied between (a) loyalty to and dependence on the state, (b) a progressive-liberal worldview, and (c) the desire to defend or revitalize traditional professional cultures and corporate mentalities. Different professions displayed many similarities with regard to the level of education, the orientation toward science and scholarship, and the social position of their members. Nevertheless the various occupational groups often competed with one another for cultural hegemony, social prestige, and political power.

2.1 Institutionalization Of Professional Training

The specific way in which education and training are institutionalized plays a central role in processes of professionalization. The states of the European continent led the way in the creation of theoretically and scientifically based training programs and in the transfer of such programs to (reformed) universities and elite institutions of higher learning such as the French Grandes Ecoles. On the other hand, it is also true that (complementary) training through practice survived and even retained a central importance (trainees in state agencies, mandatory internships with practitioners, or, for example, when the first professional years serve, in effect, as a sort of apprenticeship). In Anglo-Saxon countries, the transition from ‘training on the job’ or ‘shop culture’ to ‘school culture’ has intensified since the late nineteenth century (Lundgreen 1990). A comparison of the length of time required for professional training in different countries reveals significant differences, even for the same occupation. Some of these differences may be attributed to variations in the contents of training programs, while others depend on factors such as tradition, restrictive state policies affecting the labor market, or the exclusive strategies of the professions themselves.

2.2 The Institutionalization Of Professions

Beginning in the eighteenth century, it is important to distinguish between the legal institutionalization of the professions by the state, on one hand, and the formalization and regulation that is intended and implemented by the occupational groups themselves, on the other. With regard to the latter, one must also distinguish among (a) the continual development of a premodern profession, which, in principle, was never dissolved (such as the English ‘bar’); (b) the restructuring of professions, which had been temporarily deinstitutionalized (as was the case with physicians and lawyers in the United States); and (c) the formation of new professions by members of functional and occupational groups that first arose in the nineteenth century (especially engineers but also a number of other ‘new’ professions). All of these involve long processes, which typically culminate in accreditation through the state or the legislation.

In much of Europe, the state or the government or legislation took the initiative to regulate and institutionalize the professions (Siegrist 1996; Ramsey 1984; McClelland et al. 1995). The state, as the guarantor of the legal order, the promoter of culture, and as an intervening force in society, needed professional services and provided the professions with knowledge, rights, and duties. In this way, the state distinguished the professions symbolically from the occupations and functional roles of business, commerce, and agriculture, which had been deregulated through the abolition of guilds and the liberalization of the trades. Henceforth, the professions included only those vocations that were occupied with central goods and values or with securing property, honor, health, public order, morality, and science. In this new configuration of the professions, the old European conceptions of profession, guild and vocation were combined with the ideas of progress, order, and freedom.

In contrast to liberal and democratic societies, monarchical, bureaucratic, and statist societies tend to define professionals as civil servants and to establish a specific hierarchy of the professions: at the pinnacle of this hierarchy are professionals in the civil service, who are followed by state-appointed professionals, then by highly qualified members of the ‘free professions’ and finally by those professionals whose training and practice are not prescribed exactly. In liberal societies, the hierarchy is less pronounced, and the free professions stand at the pinnacle (Siegrist 1996). Since the late nineteenth century, professionals have been increasingly employed in private enterprises such as industrial firms, banks, insurance companies, and research laboratories. The occupational and status groups of professionals who are employees develop their self-understanding with reference to the social types of the civil servant, the free professional, and the entrepreneur.

The professional and social types of the nineteenth century may be characterized as follows:

(a) Professionals who are ‘civil servants’ are to a great extent bound in the service of the king or the state. If necessary, the individual lawyer, physician, engineer, or professor must disregard professional criteria and follow the directives of his superior. Due, however, to the increasing recognition of professional competence and of the indefinite tenure of higher civil servants, specific ideas and forms of professional autonomy also come into play in the judiciary, in the administration, and in higher education. Professions such as the engineers who were educated in the elite technical colleges in France and then entered into the civil service developed a special esprit de corps (Schweitzer 1999);

(b) Members of ‘state-appointed professions’ are holders of public office. Professionals such as these enjoy a kind of protected market, but they are also monitored closely. Political appointment strengthens the authority of the expert in society but limits his autonomy, impedes the formation of a self-defined collective consciousness of the profession, and makes the organization of professional associations more difficult. Examples include the Prussian, Bavarian, and Austrian lawyers well into the late nineteenth century, the French and Italian court lawyers (a oues, procuratori), the Prussian county physicians, and the community physicians of Italy. In the late nineteenth century, some of these state-appointed professions were able to emancipate themselves from state protection, which had come to be viewed as patronizing. Linking discourses on political freedom and the free market with discourses on professional autonomy, they expressed the desire to become ‘truly free professions.’ Since clients increasingly made similar demands, many states changed the corresponding laws and regulations in the last third of the nineteenth century;

(c) The ‘free professions’ are characterized by more elaborate forms of training and examination and distinguished titles. Credentials are derived mostly from the state, but the free professional must be able to adapt to one or more segments of the market for professional services. Minimal standards for both professional and ethical Behavior are often regulated by law, at least in principle. In practice, such regulations are enforced either by professional courts of honor (disciplinary bodies with the authority of public law or executive boards of associations with informal authority) or by ordinary courts and clients;

(d) In those areas where professional functions are exercised in the form of free trade, the constraints of the market and the increasing authority of science and scholarship encourage informal processes of professionalization. Professionals are themselves motivated to improve their own qualifications. An elite defines professional qualifications, founds an association, and attempts to marginalize or discredit socalled semi-professional practitioners.

2.3 Cognitive And Emotional Orientations And Strategies

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the contents, forms, and meanings of professional knowledge changed. As was the case with other societal elites, professionals formulated new scientific discourses and new models for professional conduct. The physician achieved greater recognition as a scientifically and practically trained healer and health expert (Huerkamp 1985; Leonard 1981), while the lawyer came to be viewed as a legal expert and ‘priest of justice,’ who was responsible for the realization of the rule of law and for securing the rights, the property, and the honor of the citizens (Siegrist 1996). The engineer was the chief proponent of scientific and technical progress, and was long considered to be an expert for administration, supervision, and organization (Schweitzer 1999). The university professor and the teacher in the gymnasium or lycee were the experts for education, aesthetics, and morality. Finally, the Protestant minister was the educated theologian, whose legitimacy was no longer derived from faith and piety alone.

The degree of the systematization of knowledge increased over the course of the nineteenth century, but the superiority of the professions and the efficiency of professional conduct remained controversial for an extended period of time. This is evident in the debates over the competence of university-trained ‘physicians,’ practical ‘surgeons,’ ‘herbalists,’ ‘quacks,’ nuns, midwives, and orderlies, and, more generally, over ‘professional knowledge’ and the knowledge of ‘lay’ persons. The professions had enduring difficulties in their efforts to prove their greater efficiency and to legitimize their autonomy with reference to science. Therefore, they attempted to support their claims to professional autonomy with supplementary appeals to values and attitudes that they shared with most of their bourgeois clients and employers. The leading concepts in these efforts were independence, responsibility, impartiality, altruism, public service, acting ‘in good faith,’ and ‘delicacy’ in the sense of tact and discretion. These values and attitudes were often codified in laws, professional regulations, codes of ethics, and professional manuals. In many cases, such moral standards applied to the whole person of the professional, i.e., not only to his occupational activities but also to his Behavior as a private person and citizen as well.

Compulsion and persuasion served to bridge the gap between professional culture and lay culture. Studies that conceive of professionalization as an element in the historical development of disciplinary processes and the growth of class domination emphasize the compulsive character of the social action of professionals. With the spread of medical, legal, technical, moralizing, and educational practices, professional culture as a combination of knowledge and power penetrated all aspects of modern life and thought (Goldstein 1984, 1987). The professions are said to have used their knowledge in order to secure for themselves social and economic advantages. On the other hand, empirical social and cultural historical studies, in which concrete interactions between experts and lay persons are investigated, often conclude that experts were hardly able to realize their cultural projects in a pure form. For quite some time, lay persons avoided contact with professionals by seeking advice with regard to health from pastors or priests and by seeking legal council from union secretaries.

The historical record shows that the professions that were close to the state or involved with legally regulated cases and procedures were, as a rule, more successful in compelling recognition of their competence. In contrast, clients who made a short visit to the doctor’s office, to a lawyer, or to a priest were not exposed to experts to the same degree. On the whole, the free professions had to rely more heavily on persuasion. This explains why symbolic performances, clothing, decoration of work spaces, rituals, and rhetoric are such an essential part of professional culture.

2.4 Professions, Markets, And Economic Situation

The rise of the professions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was due largely to the increased and increasingly differentiated demand of private and public customers for goods and services. To a degree, professionals were able to stimulate this demand as well. They fulfilled a continually growing need for the explanation of the world, the formulation and attribution of meanings, for edification, and for entertainment. Through their influence, questions of law and property and of health and death were viewed less fatalistically. Many new opportunities arose for them in the construction trade, commerce, industry, banking and insurance, research, higher education, and also in agriculture. The professions profited from a general increase in prosperity and in the cultural needs of the middle classes. In the twentieth century, there was a rising demand for medical, social, and cultural services on the part of lower social strata, which had previously been neglected. Due to developments in the fields of education and insurance in the welfare state, and because of a general rise in income levels, these strata developed into a new mass market. The changing profile of the clients led to a revision of the traditional attitudes and practices of the professions.

The economic situation of the professions has at no time and in no place been homogeneous. The spectrum ranges from the modest conditions of the lower middle class (petite bourgeoisie) to those of the upper middle class (haute bourgeoisie). Income and wealth vary according to stages in career development. They depend upon individual abilities and performance, on regulations governing fees and honoraria, on conditions in the various markets, and on general economic cycles. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was not uncommon for income to be augmented by supplementary, non-professional activities, by doweries and inheritance, by earnings from real estate, or by stocks and bonds. This was typical of the bourgeois and petit bourgeois milieus to which the professionals belonged through birth, marriage, or social relations. In the twentieth century, the income of professionals was still significantly higher than that of workers or than the national average. Due to increasing competition, to increasing recruitment from families of humbler background, and to economic and political crises, professionals have often become convinced that their heyday is behind them and that they are threatened with decline (Jarausch 1990). Under these circumstances, there is often an intensification of conflict within the professions between protectionists and those favoring a more aggressive market orientation.

Beginning in the late nineteenth century, as the model of the free professions continued to spread, all of the professions became increasingly dependent upon the market. In reaction to this, there were many debates among professionals over the ‘overcrowding’ of the market and the closure of the various professions. There was a general trend toward lengthening training programs and making them more difficult, in order to stem the influx of young aspirants. The pattern of discrimination against female candidates was widespread. In principle, women had been admitted to higher education since c. 1900, but they were effectively hindered in practicing the classical professions for quite some time (Jacobi 1994). In Central and Eastern Europe, members of religious and ethnic ‘minorities,’ who had been emancipated in the nineteenth century, still experienced discrimination when they attempted to gain admission to the professions. Due to their supposed ‘overrepresentation’ in universities and academic occupations, Jews were often made responsible for the worsening of the working conditions and the standard of living among professionals (Jarausch 1990; McClelland et al. 1995). It was not until the second half of the twentieth century that discrimination on the basis of religion, ethnicity, and gender gradually came to be forbidden.

3. Particularism Versus Universalism

Depending on varying perspectives among both contemporaries and historians, the modern history of the professions may be understood in terms of the nationalization of culture and society or in terms of the universalization of knowledge and of the culture of professionalism. In the process of nation-building, members of the professions became elites, which supported the development of national society, politics, science, and culture. The national system provided them with opportunities and assigned rights and duties to them. As functional and cultural elites of the nation, they had a common interest in maintaining the interconnection of power, status, knowledge, and earnings. In both the public arena and in more exclusive spheres, they represented themselves through professional and bourgeois discourses and symbols; these included historical accounts, myths, and lieux de memoire as well as cultural artifacts such as busts, statues, and portraits of famous professionals in public buildings. Professionals have tended to view their own structures, practices, and status as being nationally specific, even in those cases, where, in objective terms, there is a dominant international pattern or style, which is subject only to slight variations and nuances.

Comparative historical research and the history of institutional and cultural transfer has relativized national interpretations and led to significant revisions of national views of history. Such approaches have shown how states and national professions imitate and vary foreign symbol systems and institutions, when they are convinced that this will lead to an improvement in their performance and in their status in international competition (Ramsey 1984; Lundgreen 1990; Siegrist 1996; McClelland et al. 1995). In some cases, occupational patterns that were originally imposed by European empires were maintained after the end of imperial domination. French models for advocates and for engineers were imposed on other lands during the Napoleonic era; but subsequently they were adopted voluntarily, because they were found to be compelling. The Habsburg monarchy influenced the structure of the professions in Southeastern Europe. Prussian prototypes exerted a strong influence in the development of civil service and the professions in northern Central Europe. During the colonial period, the model of the English and French professions diffused worldwide, and they have retained their attractiveness in the postcolonial era as well. The Soviet model of the socialist intelligentsia spread after 1945 to the lands of the Eastern Bloc. In Europe, American patterns have competed with national ones at least since the 1980s.

Since the late nineteenth century, the European or universal character of knowledge and professional culture has often been celebrated at international congresses, but national patterns survived into the twentieth century. In Europe, these have only begun to weaken in recent decades, in the wake of liberalization, the integration of the European market, and globalization. This is a clear indication of the fundamental difference between the professions and other occupations, which were liberalized at an earlier date and more thoroughly.

4. Historiography And Emphases In Current Research

Traditional historiography tended to be focused on a single profession. It served primarily to affirm a tradition and to establish an identity, to further the understanding of ones own profession and even to celebrate it, to delimit the profession vis-a-vis other occupations and semi-professions, and to justify the status quo and lend support to demands made in the public arena (Burrage 1990; Siegrist 1996). The oldest genres in the historiography of the professions include works which defend traditions, privileges, and customs in the face of threatening political, social, and legal developments or, alternatively, polemical works by outsiders and civil servants who want to reform the professions. Since the nineteenth century, there has been a proliferation of biographies and memoirs of exemplary professionals, of festschriften on the occasion of anniversaries, celebrations, and congresses, of memoranda and surveys with historical aspects, and of learned historical treatises in encyclopedias on general developments and various special aspects of the professions. More ambitious historical monographs on particular professions first appeared in the late nineteenth century. The authors were typically either academic or leading members of the profession in question with an interest in history. Until recently, academic historiography has only showed a moderate interest in the history of the professions. Prior to the 1960s, both amateur and academic historians were more interested in individual professions than in typical aspects of the various professions and rarely took the approaches and theses of the sociology of the professions into account.

Precursors of the systematic historical comparison (and sociology) of the professions include works which, beginning around 1800, compared local and regional occupational ordinances and occupational conditions with foreign equivalents. This sort of comparison and historical reflection was conducted in connection with the preparation of national laws pertaining to professions. Around 1900, representatives of the new discipline of sociology began to take abstract and systematic approaches to individual professions, to groups of professions, and to specific aspects of processes of professionalization. In the efforts of sociologists to discover the ‘essence’ of the professions or to develop a ‘general theory’ of the professions, historical aspects and cultural peculiarities were neglected. In the 1960s, research based on the sociology of class and social conflict and pioneer contributions to international comparison reintroduced a historical perspective to the study of the professions (see the historical overviews on the sociology of professions by Freidson 1986 and Burrage 1990). These works inspired the new historical research on the professions, in which the development of the professions is historicized and recontextualized, without, however, sacrificing the goals of systematizing, conceiving of historical types, and contributing to the formulation of a general theory. Today, the history of the professions is an established and dynamic field of social history, cultural history, the history of the sciences, and the history of education. Historical approaches to gender have shown why professionalization has, until very recently, remained a male phenomenon and how professionalization and gender have entered into specific kinds of symbiotic relationships.


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