Article

The System of Professions: An Essay on the Divison of Expert Labor

Administrative Science Quarterly (Impact Factor: 4.21). 06/1990; DOI: 10.2307/2393403

ABSTRACT In "The System of Professions" Andrew Abbott explores central questions about the role of professions in modern life: Why should there be occupational groups controlling expert knowledge? Where and why did groups such as law and medicine achieve their power? Will professionalism spread throughout the occupational world? While most inquires in this field study one profession at a time, Abbott here considers the system of professions as a whole. Through comparative and historical study of the professions in nineteenth- and twentieth-century England, France, and America, Abbott builds a general theory of how and why professions evolve.

Abbott begins by evaluating the link—which he calls jurisdiction—between an occupation and its work. The concept of jurisdiction leads directly to an analysis of professions as existing in a system; since one profession can preempt another's work, the histories of professions are inevitably interdependent. Abbott goes on to discuss both internal and external cultural and social forces bearing on this system and closes by illustrating his approach with three detailed histories of contested jurisdictions, in the areas of information, law, and psychotherapy.

Underlying Abbott's theoretical synthesis is an explanation of how a division of labor—in this case a division of expert labor—constructs itself in modern society. In addressing this question, he also offers a powerful analysis of contingency that bridges the gap between analytic sociology and narrative history. Written with grace and clarity, this highly original treatise will be required reading for those interested in the history and sociology of the professions. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)

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    • "Professionalization does not occur in a vacuum. Abbott (1988) points to the relevance of competition between professional groups. The currency of competition between professions is the claim over a jurisdiction – i.e. the tasks that need to be fulfilled. "
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    • "Evetts 2011 ) , and not in response to a need expressed by other occupational groups in the school system , the suggestion that special educators have difficulties claiming full jurisdictional control is even more substantiated . Returning to Abbott ( 1988 ) , once again , the difficulties for special educators to gain jurisdictional control might be related to obstacles to ' public ' recognition ( where ' pub - lic ' includes politicians and the media ) of the effects of the work the professionals per - form . The results indicate that special educators have been unsuccessful in fully organising their practical work in coherence with their knowledge and values or consis - tent with how they define and explain school difficulties . "
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    • "Bourdieu's concept of symbolic capital provides an ideal analytic tool for understanding and explaining the dispute between two professions over the use of a specific professional title, notably " podiatric surgeon. " Whilst Weberian explanations provide insight into inter-professional competition and jurisdictional disputes over task and role boundaries (Abbott, 1988; Larkin, 1983; Macdonald, 1995; Saks, 2013; Turner, 1995) it is Bourdieu's insights that most clearly express the importance of title and the right of naming (Bourdieu, 1989). Bourdieu separates title from task, and teases out the importance of the former in determining the latter. "
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