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The Concept of Profession Today: A Disquieting Misnomer?

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

The aim of the paper is to go beyond current theoretical disputes about the heuristic value of notions of “profession” and “professionalism” in contemporary (western) society and try to re-assess the everlasting pillars of their epistemological foundations, the existing gap between what a professional or a professional performance is, could be or ought to be. Surely what we still call “profession” and “professionalism” are socially constructed issues. Their social meaning and their empirically testable frames of references stem from a variety of space-time conditions. However, historical evidence shows that these terms always have been referring to a particular type of social actor tailored to handle certain basic human problems according to given expertise in order to achieve trans-personal aims relevant at a broader social level. It would be seriously misleading, and even wrong, therefore, to abandon such terms now, when troublesome human experiences ‐ weakenesses, dangers, fears, risks, etc. ‐ are not withering away at all, but, on the contrary are spreading and will remain ubiquitous in the future. Accordingly, a major emphasis is put on the requirement of the social utility and necessity of the professional mandate as a “disposition of means“ to deal procedurally with occasional but socially recurrent “calls for help,” which implies a particular knowledge, a special personal committment and a highly refined relational interation as a way somewhat to “normalise” given societal dynamics.

Affiliations: 1: Law Faculty, University of Macerata Via Don Minzoni 2, 62100 Macerata Italy, Email:


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