9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN19 Sociology of Professions

2009-09-03 09:00:00 2009-09-03 10:30:00 Thursday, 3 September 09:00 - 10:30 The Changing Cultures of Professional Work Building I, Auditório 2

Is there such a thing as "universality" in the attempt to sustain professional identities? The case of engineers and chief physicians in Switzerland and Germany

Professionals in the public as well as the private sector are faced with changing work conditions that arguably upset central aspects of their professional identities. For example, engineers are increasingly required to be flexible and mobile and to take on different tasks in international, short-term projects. In particular, they are challenged by the fact that they have less agency and control over their individual career and - at the same time - need to take on more responsibility for employability. Chief physicians, on the other hand, have to deal with the advent of neo-liberal market economics and the increased importance of managerial logic and practices in their hospital and clinics. This challenges central aspects of their professional identity such as the belief in autonomy and peer-control, their expert status, superiority and centrality for the functioning of the hospital.
Despite various differences between these two professional groups, we found several parallels in the ways in which they reacted towards these challenges and sustained their professional identities. Among the identity sustaining strategies are:
a) Joking about resp. disdaining management's ability to evaluate the professionals' effort, output and significance for the organization
b) Dissociating themselves from managerial logic through emphasis on professional values, i.e. the habituel dissociation from the managerial culture
c) Establishing and drawing on forms of social capital (e.g. establishing close links to influential politicians or colleagues)
d) Emphasizing and glorifying the focus of the professional work (e.g. the well-being of the patient vs. cost-efficiency, problem solving vs. administration)
Based on a heuristic that includes the professionals' self-concept, their identity strategies and identity resources that enable professionals to sustain central aspects of their identity, we will present two empirical case studies. While the first case illustrates the situation of engineers in a transnational German high-tech firm, the other case describes the situation of chief physicians in Switzerland. We will discuss whether "universal" strategies exist that help professionals in their identity work. We will also address the question whether these strategies are able to change the dominance of neo-liberal market economics or whether they actually help to institutionalize them.