Joining professional arenas. Accountants, engineers and HR professionals in Italy and England
Dipartimento di Ricerche Economiche e Sociali Università di Cagliari Cagliari, Italy
Professional career-paths have been transfigured by recent labour market´s transformation. My research on early career professionals in the fields of engineering, H.R. and accountancy, suggests that recent graduates may think of the possibility to join a profession as a way to navigate the agitated sea of flexible employment -rather than as a mean to ensure themselves the privileges traditionally associated with professions. Thus, professions may be accounted for by graduates as resources to be enacted in order to construct a career. However, the accounts of the two groups of professionals interviewed, one based in Italy and one based in England, show that professions may work very differently depending on what "repertoires of evaluation" (Lamont & Thevenot 2000) are negotiated in each national context. Indeed, joining a profession is quite a different experience for the two groups, in relation to the multifaceted aspects related to the functioning of professions as institution, as well as to professional associations and professional membership.
More specifically, early career professionals based in Italy do not rely on the "positive" opportunities offered by professions. Instead, the flow of their narratives focuses on their attempt to avoid the constraints specifically poses by professions. This group regards at professional arenas as bureaucratic institutions from which one has to pass by, but whose inconsistent organisation forces one to substantially build on personal strategies. Vice-versa, young professionals based in England draw on professions to gain control over their careers: professions are identified as a specific career anchor, and portrayed as gateways to launch oneself in the world of adults, to access the old boys´ club, to disrupt the isolation of the newcomer. More generally, when professional boundaries are perceived as "liquid", as in this latter case, professions do not act as a trap for young members but are rather seen as safe boats not to sink in the agitated sea of flexible employment.
Lamont, M., Thévenot, L., Ed. (2000). Rethinking Comparative Cultural Sociology. Repertoires of Evaluation in France and the United States. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.