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Changing Professional Forms and Identities in the Face of the Neo-Liberal Challenge Michael Reed Professor of Organisational Analysis Cardiff University.

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Presentation on theme: "Changing Professional Forms and Identities in the Face of the Neo-Liberal Challenge Michael Reed Professor of Organisational Analysis Cardiff University."— Presentation transcript:

1 Changing Professional Forms and Identities in the Face of the Neo-Liberal Challenge Michael Reed Professor of Organisational Analysis Cardiff University June 2009

2 Introduction Is professionalism, as the third logic of occupational control and work organization, in terminal decline (Freidson: Professionalism: The Third Logic, 2001)? If markets and firms (or hierarchies) are the first and second logics for organizing and controlling expert work, then is profession, as the third logic, able to cope with the neo-liberal challenge? How has professionalism changed, over the course of the last three decades or so, in the course of responding to the threats and opportunities presented by the neo-liberal challenge – particularly in Anglo-American political economies/welfare systems? How have established professional forms and identities changed in the light of changing economic, political and cultural conditions experienced within Anglo-American systems since the late 1970s/early 1980s? 2

3 The Neo-Liberal Challenge Increasing cultural power and influence of neo-liberal ideology and discourse which rejects any restraints on the free movement of goods, services and people Globalization of professional services The ICT revolution and the rise of network-based forms of organizing and governance Progressive economic and political deregulation Increasing dominance of market-based mechanisms for pricing and allocating services Diffusion of consumerist ideology and individualist ethic – the new individualism 3

4 New monitoring and audit technologies such as performance management Declining cultural capital, authority and autonomy of specialist expertise Rise of managerialism and management as new ways for thinking about and organizing specialist services Expansion of knowledge-intensive sectors and organizations such as creative industries and the knowledge workers (symbolic analysts) which they employ Growing crisis of confidence in established professions which is exacerbated by a series of dramatic failures in self-regulation and management that reinforces underlying move towards low trust/high control syndrome 4

5 Cumulative effect of these structural, ideological and political changes is to pose major and sustained threat to the continued dominance of the system of professions as it had evolved in the Anglo-American political economies and welfare systems since the nineteenth century 5

6 Professionalism in Crisis? Professionalization – as dominant strategy for organizing and controlling expert work through occupational closure and organizational segmentation – under threat from state-sponsored and market-based deregulation of service provision Professionalism – as dominant principle of institutional legitimation and authorization of expert practice – under attack from political ideologies and economic policies that extol the virtues of unencumbered individualism and unrestricted liberalization (Spanish practices or conspiracy against the laity) Profession – as dominant occupational form and organizational practice for developing, providing and evaluating specialist/expert services and skills – under attack because of its perceived failure to sustain internal ethical codes ( both written and unwritten) and protect internal regulative machinery (move from high trust/loosely regulated autonomy to low trust/tightly regulated control) 6

7 Changing Professional Identities Cultural identity and status of professional work/workers more openly contested and uncertain in a world that is increasingly disposed to question claims to privilege and autonomy on the part of powerful interest groups Marketization/deregulation of specialist services through increased global competition and decreased political intervention generating an increasingly fragmented system of professions (Abbott; The System of Professions 1988) in which expert workers have to compete for business and survival without the relative stability and continuity provided by the previous regulative regimes 7

8 Decline in institutionalized trust and assumed moral status raises serious questions concerning the future cultural legitimacy and identity of professional work/workers insofar as it seems to erode, if not emasculate, the ideological and ethical foundations of professionalism as the third logic 8

9 Ideal Types of Professional Futures Engineers of Human Souls Faceless Technocrats Merchants of Morality Each of these ideal types (theoretical models/thought experiments) provides a very different reading of how professions and professionals can most effectively respond to the increasingly questioning, not to say hostile, political and cultural environment in which they find themselves They also provide very different assessments of the nature of the professional futures that realistically seem to be on offer to accredited experts in a world where specialist services are more freely available than ever before but only come at a price. 9

10 Engineers of Human Souls Professionals as a republic of experts who exercise their specialist knowledge and skills on behalf of the general good rather than any particular sectional interest An elitist cultural identity in which social legitimacy stems from the collective benefits that professionalism and professionals bring to society as whole Specialist expertise brings social, economic and cultural progress to modern societies that are prepared to recognize and support the vital and indispensable contribution that specialist make to modernization (professionalism as a necessarily progressive force and movement) Professionalism and professionals are functionally indispensable to the scientific, technological and economic progress that modern societies take for granted and they are culturally indispensable to the democratic, pluralistic and meritocratic values that such societies wish to instil and sustain in their peoples 10

11 BUT: Can this view be sustained in societies that increasingly prioritize the values of individualism, entrepreneurialism and competition over those associated with collectivism, meritocracy and collaboration? 11

12 Faceless Technocrats Professionals have no choice but to adapt to entrepreneurialism and managerialism in that they have to transform themselves into technocratic specialists at the service of the market or market proxies if they are to survive much less flourish in a globally competitive and unforgiving world Thus, its the technical, rather than the moral, benefits to be derived from specialist expertise that will be the key to maintaining professional identity and autonomy within an increasingly marketed/deregulated economy and society Indeed, modern professionalism is fundamentally based on the integration of credentialism, meritocracy and technocracy – and this integrated regime of beliefs, values and discourses will need to be revived and revivified if modern professionalism is to sustain itself as a pro-active social force and organizational form in the future 12

13 BUT: Is this return to the technocratic vision of professionalism viable in a world where consumer populism and user empowerment are the dominant cultural icons and ideologies (professionals on tap rather than op top) 13

14 Merchants of Morality Jettison the public face/official pretence of generalized moral authority and accept, indeed embrace, the political and cultural reality of an emerging new economy of power (even though its been in the making since the mid-late eighteenth century!) based on the delicate mechanisms and instruments of professional disciplinary surveillance and control (Foucault: Society must be Protected, 2003) View of professionalization, professionalism and professionals from below rather than from above – that is, the unofficial or hidden history of the 3Ps Professionals will continue to play a central role in fabricating the expert theories on which the human sciences depend and in designing and implementing the practical reform programmes and control technologies that flow from them; they will provide the means through which various groups – wherever they are located within a societys power structures – attempt to pursue their aims and projects but they will also find themselves increasingly subject to the theories, programmes and technologies that they have developed, designed and implemented 14

15 BUT: Does this mean that professional service markets and organizational forms will continue to be based on distrust, contestation and surveillance? 15

16 Coda: Where Do We Go From Here? Inter-occupational fragmentation and intra-occupational polarization – rather than proletarianization – seem to be the emerging structural trajectories in the domain of professional services and the organizational forms through which they are provided and legitimated Major implications for professional cultural identities and organizational practices that are viable and sustainable in the longer term Little or no chance of a return to the halcyon days of the high trust/low control regime in which the once dominant professional cultural stereotypes (naturally trusted, widely respected, culturally protected and well-rewarded) can be sustained 16

17 But, relatively new and robust, forms of organizational professionalism – and their supporting ideological systems and discursive practices – seem to be in the course of establishing themselves and demonstrating the requisite degree of structural flexibility and cultural heterogeneity (Faulconbridge and Muzio 2008) Yet, what are the longer term implications of the global economic recession that we are now experiencing for the long-term prospects – structurally, ideologically, politically and culturally – of the professions (see Guardian 20.3.09 and 13.5.09 for UK professions) Professional knowledge is only what the occupational group can annexe and hold on to. The advantages they derive from it are only those that their professional project can achieve in a particular historical context…What does the profession do next? In the same way that the rewards of the professional project are attained by steady, constant effort on the part of members and their organization, they are only retained by comparable exertion. The condition of professional monopoly, like that of liberty, is eternal vigilance (MacDonald: Professional Work, 2006, 375- 380). 17

18 BUT: What happens when liberty and professionalism are seen to be in direct opposition to one another – that is, when the prevailing view seems to be that the more you get of the latter, the less you get of the former? ALSO: What happens when the members and their organizationreact to an increasingly challenging environment in ways that seem to weaken their collective will and capacity to maintain control over [their] knowledge base, to find ways to combat the ever-present tendency for knowledge to become located in organizations and machines, rather than their members, to hold [their] own vis-à-vis the state, and to resist attempts at incursion into [their] jurisdiction by other occupations (MacDonald 2006: 380)? 18

19 In short, what is the future for professionalism at a time and in a place when its cultural authority seems, at the very least, to be waning and where its organizational power seems to be constrained by external forces that weaken its internal cohesion and resolve? 19

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