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Professionalization

A notable indication of this phenomenon is in the growth of professions (Cheetham & Chivers, 2005). Professions are a way of asserting control over some body of knowledge. Typical tactics of control include drawing boundaries around a particular body of knowledge and skills, and then requiring certification, typically through a designated educational experience, building group identification, requiring membership in professional associations, and so on. Through these means, entry into the profession is tightly controlled. Often these efforts are supported by the state in the form of licensure requirements with negative legal sanctions applied to those who violate those requirements.

Once a profession is established, it typically results in professional autonomy and financial gain for its members, who are able to use the entry requirements as a way of controlling competition and increasing monetary rewards and prestige (McDonald, 1995). At the same time, the gain for society is that there is some guarantee that practitioners are qualified to do what the general public is unable to do for itself. It is not surprising then that members of occupations struggle for the legitimacy associated with having their work defined as a profession. The expansion of occupations defined as such is well documented (see, e.g., Freidson, 1986; McDonald, 1995). Professions then control certain spheres of social life not only by expertise but by also by law. To cite just two of the most stringent examples, practicing law or medicine without a license carries criminal penalties in every U.S. state.

Reliance on Experts

As Bauman (1992) has pointed out, the expansion of professions is just part of a wider phenomenon of reliance on experts that characterizes the knowledge society. Experts, whether carrying full professional status or not, mediate between various forms of knowledge and the average person. Bauman refers to the fact that experts mediate and interpret “supra-personal” knowledge, meaning knowledge that individuals are unable or unwilling to acquire on their own. He writes:

The expert is a person capable, simultaneously, of interrogating the fund of trustworthy and supra-personal knowledge and of understanding the innermost thoughts and cravings of a single person. As an interpreter and a mediator, the expert spans the
otherwise distant worlds of the objective and the subjective. He bridges the gap between the guarantees of being in the right (which can only be social) and making the choices one wants (which can only be personal) (p. 82).

All of this is to say that the individual in modern society is confronted with a large number of tasks to accomplish that require skills and knowledge beyond his or her own experience. The system upon which we depend for our survival: the electrical grid, transportation, food production and distribution, the water supply, and waste removal, are beyond control or even understanding for most. At the more personal level, the inner workings of our automobiles, the plumbing and wiring of our homes, and the appliances we rely on, all increasingly require Bauman's (1992) “supraindividual” knowledge. We rely on experts to make use of this knowledge on our behalf, usually in return for financial compensation.

Experts and Routine Activities

The expansion of expertise into daily life is pervasive and taken for granted. This is most obvious in areas such as medicine and law where reliance on experts is not only preferred but also, as noted earlier, legislatively mandated. More routine activities are affected as well, from “checking the weather” to purchasing healthy food. Take clothing as an example. Not only are most incapable of making their clothing, but the importance of “style” as a social resource leads to reliance on magazines, electronic media, the Internet, and, if one can afford it, consultants to guide an adequate presentation of one's identity (Meares, 2011). Likewise, normative grooming expectations have spawned an industry of licensed hair stylists who in a variety of complex and hierarchical organizational settings provide an array of products and services that many are compelled to make use of to make what they perceive to be an adequate presentation of self (Campbell, 1996; Goffman, 1959; Kleine, Kleine, & Kernan, 1993).

As noted by Andrew (1981) the expansion of reliance on experts and rationalized knowledge has spread from work to leisure. An entire industry has grown around providing expertise for nearly any leisure activity including biking, hiking, running, knitting, gardening, bird watching, photography, and so on. At the same time, book shelves are stocked with expert advice on how to get into relationships, get out of relationships, get pregnant (or not), how to raise a child (with specializations on every stage of development), and further specialization on subissues within stages, for example sleep issues among infants, sex issues among teens, and so on (see, e.g., Ryan, Wentworth, & Chapman, 1994). Such books cover virtually every aspect of the human experience, and what is common to all of them is that the reader is seeking expert advice, even if the goal of that advice is to “do it yourself.”

 
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