Critique Of Andrew Abbott Part A: Summary Introduction: Andrew Abbotts book, The System of Professions: An Essay on the Division of Expert Labour contains a mix of comparative historical analysis and current evaluation, which is assembled within an analytical model that looks at professions from the viewpoint of their jurisdictions, the tasks they do, the expert knowledge needed for those tasks, and how competitive forces internally and externally work to change both the jurisdictions and the tasks. Abbott attempts to show that professions are interdependent systems, containing internal structures. He accomplishes this task by means of analyzing the emergence of modern professions and their relationships with each other cooperatively and competitively. Section I: Work, Jurisdiction, and Competition Abbotts book takes on an individualistic direction in its inception then moves to a more systematic view of professions. Modern studies of formal professions began with the rise of the discipline of social sciences in the 19th century. In the beginning, scholars debated about the theoretical interpretations of professionalism. There was a split between proponents of functionalist and monopolistic approaches.

However, academics on both sides agreed, that a profession was an occupational group with some special skill (Abbott 1988: 7). Abbott mentions that there have been four different perspectives that have sought to interpret professionalization, a functional, structural, monopolistic, and a cultural view. Abbott states that the tasks of professions are to provide expert service to amend human problems (Abbott 1988: 33). These problems can be objective, in that they originate naturally or through technological imperatives. Problems can also be subjective, whereby they are imposed by society or a culture either from the present or past. Abbott argues that the real difference between the objective and subjective qualities of problems is a difference in amenability to cultural work (Abbott 1988: 36). Abbott outlines that there are several types of objective foundations for professional tasks.

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Some being technological, some organizational, other sources of objective qualities lay in natural objects and facts, while others came from slow-changing cultural structures. Abbott also argues that a profession is always vulnerable to changes in the objective character of its central tasks (Abbott 1988: 39). Besides the objective qualities, professional tasks also have subjective qualities, which make them susceptible to change. Unlike objective tasks, change does not come from the vagaries of external forces, but from the activities of other professions impinge[ing] on the subjective qualities (Abbott 1988: 39). According to Abbott, three acts helped to embody the cultural logic of professional practice. The three subjective modalities being diagnosis, inference, and treatment.

Diagnosis is the process wherein information is taken into the professional knowledge system, and treatment is wherein instruction is brought back out from it (Abbott 1988: 40). During the process of diagnosis, relevant information about the client is assembled into a picture of the clients needs. This picture is then categorized into a proper diagnostic category. This process consists of two sub-processes known as colligation and classification. Colligation is the first step in which the professional knowledge system begins to structure the observed problems (Abbott 1988: 41). Colligation is the forming of a picture of the client, and consists primarily of rules declaring what kinds of evidence are relevant and irrelevant, valid and invalid, as well as rules specifying the admissible level of ambiguity (Abbott 1988: 41).

Classification is the referral of the colligated picture to the dictionary of professional legitimate problems (Abbott 1988: 41). Colligation and classification help to define which type of problems fall under which body of profession, and specifically what kind of problem it is in that particular profession. Abbott mentions that sometimes problems of classification arise. For some problems are constantly shifting classifications, and fall under more than one classification, due to their defining traits. This may lead to intervention or competition by other professions who want to assimilate the unclear problem into their own professional repertoire (Abbott 1988: 44).

The procedure of treatment is organized around a classification system and a brokering process, whereby results are given to the client and prescription is offered (Abbott 1988: 44). One major problem associated with treatment is the clients willingness to accept treatment. A profession that adamantly forces clients to take treatment risks losing clients to their competition who may be more flexible to their clients wishes (Abbott 1988: 47). Inference is the process that takes place when the connection between diagnosis and treatment is obscure (Abbott 1988: 49). Inference can work in one of two ways, either by exclusion or construction.

With regards to the ideals of inference, is the fact that professions that have several chances to infer solutions to a problem will consequently have more failures, than a profession that gets only one chance. In addition, professions with multiple chances are generally more vulnerable to intervention and competition, or what is known as ceteris paribus, for treatment failure is the main attacking point for invading professions (Abbott 1988: 49). Another factor that leaves professions prone to external attack is the existence of a problem where no treatment can be inferred. To counteract this potential downfall, Abbott suggested that professions often direct these unsolvable problems to elite consultants or are academicized as crucial anomalies (Abbott 1988: 50). These procedures help to make the difficult problem connected with a vague public label, which serves as a stopgap against dangerous questioning (Abbott 1988: 51).

This in turn removes direct and stigmatizing responsibility of treatment failure away from a profession, which protects a professions jurisdiction (Abbott 1988: 51). Diagnosis, treatment, inference, and academic work provide the cultural machinery of jurisdiction (Abbott 1988: 59). However, Abbott argues that this is not enough for an organized structure to claim jurisdiction. In order to claim jurisdiction, a profession must ask society to recognize its cognitive structure through exclusive rights (Abbott 1988: 59). Jurisdictional claim by a profession can be achieved in several possible arenas, within the legal system, the realm of public opinion, and within the arena of the workplace.

Claiming jurisdiction is only one means of overcoming jurisdictional disputes by professions, Abbott mentions that there are five other known types of settlement options. A professions social organization is comprised of three distinct internal structures, they being groups, controls, and worksites. These modules of professional organization work in unison to create a more bonded and organized professional structure. Together they influence professions in several ways. First, the more organized a profession is, the more effective it is at claiming jurisdiction.

Second, organization of a profession into a single, identifiable national association is clearly a prerequisite of public or legal claims (Abbott 1988: 83). Third, in some conditions oddly, some relatively less organized professions due to their internal structures have a certain advantage in workplace competition. For these professional organizations lack rigid focus, and thus have freedom to move back and forth from different tasks, whereas more organized professions lack this flexibility to venture into other areas of work to increase diversity, to become more competitive. Finally, professions that have highly organized internal structures are more resilient to attacks by less organized professions. These facts illustrate that the social structure of professions is neither fixed nor uniformly beneficial; the nature of it is constantly subdividing under the various pressures of market demands, specialization, and interprofessional competition (Abbott 1988: 84). In addition, these facts demonstrate that different competitive conditions favour a more or less organized profession.

Taken together these factors imply that the professions as a group will develop in the structured dynamic pattern that Abbott calls the system of professions. Abbott upholds in his book the ideal that professions constitute an interdependent system, and that jurisdiction is exclusive (Abbott 1988: 86). That being true, then a move by one inevitably affects the others. Change occurs within professions according to Abbott through two sources. One source is from external factors, these initiate the opening or closing [of] areas for jurisdiction and by existing or new professions seeking new ground (Abbott 1988: 90).

New tasks areas of jurisdiction are opened; some professions prosper by the acquisition of these new jurisdictions by procedures such as enclosure at the expense of destroying old jurisdictions, that lead to the weakening of the jurisdiction of other professions (Abbott 1988: 91). A second source of change comes from internal factors, these causes unlike external factors do not create or abolish jurisdiction. Change is initiated internally within the dynamic structures of professions through the development of new knowledge, and expansion of jurisdictional consolidation by processes such as professionalization or reduction (Abbott 1988: 91). Section II: The System’s Environment Abbott defines professional power as the ability to retain jurisdiction when system forces imply that a profession ought to have lost it (Abbott 1988: 136). The power of professions to expand their cognitive domain, and thus their jurisdiction, Abbott maintains is dependent on their use of abstract knowledge to annex new areas of work, and to define then as their own (Abbott 1988: 102).

Abbott also adds that knowledge must not be too abstract or concrete to be jurisdictionally advantageous for a profession. Two mechanisms help professions to maintain an optimal level of abstraction, these being the processes of amalgamation and division. Within professions there exists internal differentiation between the organized groups of individuals that comprise the profession. One major source of internal stratification comes from the phenomenon of professional regression. This is a process whereby professionals withdraw into themselves, working in more purely professional environments, as a consequence of gaining greater status (Abbott 1988: 118). They inevitably become segregated from the tasks for which they claim jurisdiction, and from clients, the public, and other subordinate professionals.

Besides professional regression there is the concept of client differentiation, which leads to specialization within professions, this creates internal divisions of labour. A process correlated to labour division is that of degradation. Degradation is the progression whereby work is systematically segmented from professional to non-professional status, which leads to the division of labour between an upper, truly professional group and a lower, subordinate one (Abbott 1988: 128). An interrelated issue of labour division is that of career patterns, Abbott argues that career patterns are often quite rigid, and that interchangeability between work of different professions is impossible. For due to demographic rigidity, some professions size and reproduction mechanisms prevent them from expanding or contracting rapidly, thus constraining their professionals from practicing outside of the profession (Abbott 1988: 129). Abbott proposes that large scale general changes on the structures that make up the system of professions, and not their effects on individual professions must be examined, to generate an accurate picture of the variables that mediate change (Abbott 1988: 143).

Abbott mentions that two significant circumstances have helped in the advancement of professional jurisdictions. One being the rise of the large-scale organization, and the other being the rise of technology (Abbott 1988: 144). Beyond technology and organizations, social movements have also been responsible for the creation and abolishment of professional work. With the organizational revolution of the 19th century professions became more bureaucratic. The rise of bureaucracies has increased competition between professions, by absorbing certain forms of work, and thus creating struggle for work that remains (Abbott 1988: 157). As a consequence, there has been a split between workplace and public jurisdiction, and subsequently a division between administrative and legislative authority. This Abbott contends leads to various changes in audiences for professional claims dependent on the social environment (Abbott 1988: 157).

Related to the increase of bureaucracy is that of co-optation, the phenomenon of professions shrinking in number and becoming more monopolized in power. This process has not decreased interprofessional competition, but has simply changed its location… and involving different arrangements of ‘friendly’ groups (Abbott 1988: 176). Besides the many social organizational and structural changes of professions that have occurred throughout the short history of professions, great cultural changes have also been involved in remaking the work of professions. The three of most significance have been the growth in size and complexity of professional knowledge, the emergence of new types of legitimacy claims for that knowledge, and the rise of the university. The changes in professional knowledge have involved two processes, that of growth and replacement.

Growth has lead to the subdivision of knowledge, while replacement has pressured knowledge towards abstraction (Abbott 1988: 179). Legitimation of professions justifies what forms of work they can do and how the …