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Keith Macdonald


Professions have been of interest to all the main schools of sociology, both in their own right and in relation to such topics as capitalism, the state, social stratification, patriarchy, power, and knowledge. Contemporary studies broadly agree that the professions are those occupations based on “advanced, or complex, or esoteric, or arcane knowledge”; or on “formally rational abstract utilitarian knowledge” ( Murphy 1988 ), whose associations, in order to protect their knowledge and the market in services based on it, have entered into a regulative bargain with the state. These features usually enable an occupation to achieve good economic rewards and relatively high social status; this leads other occupations to try to emulate them. The regulative bargain typically includes the means of controlling members of the occupation, and the obligation to adhere to ethical standards and to act with probity in relation to their clients and to the public. These features drew the attention of functionalist sociologists, from Émile Durkheim in the late nineteenth century to Talcott Parsons in the 1950s and 1960s, and led them to see professions as the bearers and defenders of important social values in modern society. This emphasis on the eufunctional value of the professions led some sociologists to adopt the “trait approach,” whereby they devised ways of deciding which occupations were professions ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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