Thursday, 12 November 2009

Professions and professional values - Perkin

Core activity 5.2 first required us to read the chapter by Perkin and write a short comment (maximum 500 words) on whether we think his view of modern society is justified, and also to compare Perkin’s view with alternative descriptions of modern society that you are aware of – for example, the ‘information society’

I found the Perkin paper a fascinating politico-socio-economic piece, but  struggled to draw from it too much about professionalism, or the values that entails. I also found it hugely challenging to read and critique, mainly because it is outside my normal sphere of understanding.

My main concern was the age of the paper - 1996 - and thirteen years on I feel his view is no longer justified. Things have moved on enormously since then, in particular due to the internet and the array of knowledge and information dissemination pathways which this has spawned. With this ready access to vast amounts of information, many people and businesses no longer require professionals to provide this knowledge. Obviously expertise and analysis remain valuable, and information always requires interpretation and application, but I suspect the role of a professional as Perkin considered it is changing.

Perkin argues that the terms professional, professional expert and professional expertise should be taken in the widest terms - including the tradional professions, but also 'professional bureaucrats' and 'professional managers'. This aligns with Sockett's definition of a profession as "an occupation with a crucial social function, requiring a high degree of skill and drawing on a systematic body of knowledge", but less with Millerson's "closure of the profession by restircitve organisation" or Lindop's " standards that are publicly acknowledged".

Perkin's wide view of professionals as an elite in a specialised-service based economy seems to echo the initial definition of the information society as a "society in which the creation, distribution, diffusion, use, integration and manipulation of information is a significant economic, political, and cultural activity" and where "the knowledge economy is its economic counterpart whereby wealth is created through the economic exploitation of understanding". However, please note that these are Wikipedia definitions, which is my current level of understanding of the meaning of the 'information society'!

It could be argued that today we are moving beyond Perkin's Third revolution, into another where the professional has a different role. The information environment has shifted radically with the internet giving access not just to formal resources, but to a mass of informal information in blogs, web pages, videos and pictures. It is in this new environment that elearning professionals will have to operate, no longer the guardians of specialist knowledge, but rather guiding students through a chaotic and ever changing world of information.

"The Third Revolution - Professional Elites in the Modern World". Harold Perkin (1996), Routledge.

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