9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN19 Sociology of Professions

2009-09-04 09:00:00 2009-09-04 10:30:00 Friday, 4 September 09:00 - 10:30 The Reconfiguration of Professional Dynamics in Health Care Building I, Auditório 1

The persistent importance of Knowledge in professional projects. A case study from nurses in Portugal

The traditional theoretical developments on professionalism have always putted emphasises on the importance of specialised knowledge to define a profession (Freidson, 1986; Johnson, 1982; Larson, 1977). Based on the Foucault notion of governamentality, recent approaches call attention to the impossibility of looking at knowledge as a neutral concept. Instead knowledge is understood, in this perspective, as the result of different political processes. Other theories make use of Gramsci analysis to try to analyse the way some ideas, norms and values come to be hegemonic in society (Wrede, 2008).
In contemporary societies knowledge notions have been reconfigured under the globalization influence and the principles of global neo-liberal market economics. Under this influence a new hegemonic notion of knowledge emerges sustaining the conception of a 'knowledge-based economy'. In this new context, knowledge became a major creative force of the economic development and its production and dissemination is increasingly incentivised outside higher education institutions and research centres. The increasing acceleration of knowledge production, accumulation and dissemination may put in risk its relevance to define a profession in our societies.
With this paper we intend to contribute to this discussion by analysing the more recent movements on the professionalisation processes of nurses in Portugal. This analysis is based on the political process underlying the merger of two nursing schools in Portugal, in which 'top-down' and 'bottom-up' mechanisms are identified. The qualitative approach developed, based on document analysis and 32 interviews with key and institutional actors, allows the conclusion that specialised knowledge and the formal credentials conceded in universities are still symbolically valued by professional groups in the organisational logic of professionalism. In this sense, it is possible to conclude that, even within the major processes of change in contemporary society, knowledge still remains as a hegemonic value institutionalised in Portuguese nursing professional project.