Overcoming the double bind of the sociology of professions
Centre for the Study of Work and Arts (CESTA) National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) PARIS, France
To some respects, the current sociology of professions is faced by a double bind. On the one hand, interactionists have definitely shown that the functionalist definition of professions is irrelevant. Whatever the temptation may be, it is now assumed that turning back to anything like this kind of definition would be a mistake. But on the other hand, the increasing threats on the ?old professional model? (as opposed to the new discourse of professionalism) are a strong invitation to reconsider the problem of defining professions. It is possible to study the consequences of these threats for the professionals themselves without any shared and lasting definition of professions. But if we want to study the consequences for their clients and the society as a whole, we need to say first clearly what the professionals used to provide they can?t provide any longer. This supposes to analyse explicitly some specificities of the work of these professionals who are faced by evolutions jeopardizing their autonomy: actually, the problem of the definition is not far, as we would not ask this question for any kind of occupation. This presentation will be devoted to showing that this difficulty can be overcome, provided that the problem of the definition is reformulated. The idea is to abandon the project of defining professions generally speaking, as so many functionalists sought vainly to do. We want to avoid both the use by the functionalist of the usual folk concept "profession" and the indistinctness between all kind of occupations, postulated by interactionists. Instead, we will propose a partition of the field in four distinctive objects of research. We will put emphasis on a kind of professions which had not been characterized as such yet. This newly identified object allows original programs of researches, among which a redefinition of the content of the autonomy some professionals have been granted, and a new way to study the consequences of the present threats on this autonomy.