The System of Professions: An Essay on The Division of Expert Labour

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


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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    • "In summary, this illustration of layer 3 makes the following conceptual points about connectivity in professional routines. The term " professions " contains some notion of the collective work or project that professional actors should be achieving (Abbott, 1988). In our case, it was trading in a market for reinsurance risk, whereas in other cases, such as an educational or healthcare system, it might be a particular standard of service provision. "
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    ABSTRACT: The goal of our chapter is twofold. Firstly, it focuses on the critical role of artifacts within the cycles of action through which routines are performed. Conceptualizing actors and artifact as entangled in action, our study offers a multi-layered approach to the study of routines. Secondly, it advances the theorizing of professional routines that stretch across organizations. Drawing on a global ethnography of the reinsurance industry, we demonstrate how professional knowledge is performed in such routines. We develop a processual framework that shows how the professional routine unfolds within three connected layers of entangled actions, actors and artifacts: connecting with the profession; connecting with individual work; and, connecting with collective work. These layers reinforce each other in enacting the professional routine and its connectivity with a wider, inter-organizational and professional process. We demonstrate our concepts in the context of reinsurance, specifically examining the role of the rating sheet (a spreadsheet used by underwriting professionals to appraise deals) in the entanglement of action, actor, and artifact in performing the deal appraisal routine (DAR) that is central to the profession of underwriting.
    Organizational Routines: How they are Created, Maintained and Changed, Edited by Jennifer Howard-Grenville, Claus Rerup, Ann Langley, Hari Tsoukas, 03/2016: chapter 6; Oxford University Press., ISBN: 978-0-19-875948-5
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    • "First, nursing is generally recognized as possessing the hallmarks of a professional project (Elzinga, 1990). It retains a distinctive cognitive structure (Larson, 1977) or abstract knowledge system that allows for the classification and treatment of complex problems (Abbott, 1988). Accredited training, licensing and a code of ethics follow from this. "

    • "Within these networks, members exchanged 'tacit knowledge', that is, learning that cannot necessarily be codified (Faulconbridge, 2006; Gertler, 2003; Lawson and Lorenz, 1999). Sociologists have argued that these forms of knowledge enable professionals to exert 'social and cultural control' in an 'exclusive' way (Abbott, 1988: 86; Evetts, 2003). As such, according to Bourdieu, tacit knowledge represents a form of 'social 1. "
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    ABSTRACT: Recent UK government policy initiatives have encouraged universities to seek funding from philanthropic sources. Yet, there has been little investigation into the work of the emergent Higher Education professionals expected to deliver this additional income. In this paper, we consider the role of professional networks in facilitating knowledge exchange amongst university fundraisers. Through interviews with senior UK philanthropy professionals in the 1960s universities, we identify significant variations amongst professional networks and peer groups. We argue that professional networks are multi-layered and often exclusionary. Yet, among participants, these associations provide both open spaces of learning and a means of achieving competitive advantage. Moreover, the networks permit university philanthropy professionals to develop new distinctive identities, transcending the institutional and locational setting of their employing organisations. This paper advances theoretical debates on the complexities of knowledge exchange across spatial scales and the role of these networks in the establishment of a new profession.
    Environment and Planning C Government and Policy 11/2015; DOI:10.1177/0263774X15614681 · 1.16 Impact Factor
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