The traditional view of the professions is that they are largely free of the hierarchical forms of social control characteristic of other kinds of occupations; instead, they are self-regulating, subject only to informal collegial control. As a result of events in the past few decades in the United States, analysts now believe that the traditional autonomy of professions is eroding. This paper reviews two theories that emphasize this process, one focusing on deprofessionalization and the other on proletarianization. It concludes that the available evidence does not support either theory sufficiently to make them analytically useful; it advances an alternate theory that emphasizes the formalization of professional social control. This third viewpoint is based on the finding that the professions—as corporate bodies—have remained relatively autonomous. Antitrust decisions, political pressure to exercise more control over errant members, and the administrative requirement of greater accountability in large organizations employing professionals are all leading to a formalization of the methods by which professions control their members. An administrative elite of professionals who serve as supervisors, managers, chief executive officers, and owners is being formed in order to guide and evaluate the performance of rank and file professionals. The technical standards employed by such professionally qualified administrators are devised by a separate group of professionals—the knowledge elite—who are based primarily in professional schools. Rank and file practitioners are no longer as free to follow the dictates of their individual judgments as in the past, though quite unlike other workers, their work is expected to involve the use of discretion on a daily basis. Stratification in the professions, which has always existed, has become more formal and overt than in the past. This development may lead to divisions within any given profession as a whole that are too deep to contain within a nominally unified corporate body.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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