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Professional Capital Contested: A Bourdieusian Analysis of Conflicts between Professionals and Managers

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image of Comparative Sociology
For content published from 1960-2001, see International Journal of Comparative Sociology.

Although Bourdieu paid scant attention to (and in fact discredited) the notion of professionalism, his social theory is well-equipped to understand the evolution of professional work. Professionalism can be conceived as a set of symbolic resources that (re)produce an occupational order, favoring expertise and craftsmanship. In neo-liberal economies this order is contested and professional powers are distrusted; professional work is seen as closed-off and conservative. Managers have become important vehicles for rationalizing and innovating production, and improving “value for money.” In fact, managerial “fields” are created, and conflicts between managerial and professional fields are well documented. These conflicts are ironic, as new classes of managers seek classic strategies of professionalization as well as classic forms of professional capital for securing managerial positions. They form professional associations, for instance, and invest in schooling, credentials and work codes. This paper explores conflicts between professionals and managers as “contests over symbolic capital.” We argue that professional capital is appropriated by managers in order to distinguish “new” from “old” professional work in larger economized fields of power.


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