Critique Of Andrew Abbott


Part A: Summary
Introduction:
Andrew Abbott's book, The System of Professions: An Essay on the Division of Expert Labour contains a mix of comparative historical analysis and current evaluation, which is assembled within an analytical model that looks at professions from the viewpoint of their jurisdictions, the tasks they do, the expert knowledge needed for those tasks, and how competitive forces internally and externally work to change both the jurisdictions and the tasks. Abbott attempts to show that professions are interdependent systems, containing internal structures. He accomplishes this task by means of analyzing the emergence of modern professions and their relationships with each other cooperatively and competitively.
Section I: Work, Jurisdiction, and Competition
Abbott's book takes on an individualistic direction in its inception then moves to a more systematic view of professions. Modern studies of formal professions began with the rise of the discipline of social sciences in the 19th century. In the beginning, scholars debated about the theoretical interpretations of professionalism. There was a split between proponents of functionalist and monopolistic approaches. However, academics on both sides agreed, ?that a profession was an occupational group with some special skill? (Abbott 1988: 7). Abbott mentions that there have been four different perspectives that have sought to interpret professionalization, a functional, structural, monopolistic, and a cultural view.
Abbott states that the tasks of professions are to provide expert service to amend human problems (Abbott 1988: 33). These problems can be objective, in that they originate naturally or through technological imperatives. Problems can also be subjective, whereby they are imposed by society or a culture either from the present or past. Abbott argues that the ?real difference between the objective and subjective qualities of problems is a difference in amenability to cultural work? (Abbott 1988: 36). Abbott outlines that there are several types of objective foundations for professional tasks. Some being technological, some organizational, other sources of objective qualities lay in natural objects and facts, while others came from slow-changing cultural structures. Abbott also argues that a ?profession is always vulnerable to changes in the objective character of its central tasks? (Abbott 1988: 39). Besides the objective qualities, professional tasks also have subjective qualities, which make them susceptible to change. Unlike objective tasks, change does not come from the vagaries of external forces, but from the ?activities of other professions impinge[ing] on the subjective qualities (Abbott 1988: 39).
According to Abbott, three acts helped to embody the cultural logic of professional practice. The three subjective modalities being diagnosis, inference, and treatment. Diagnosis is the process wherein information is taken into the professional knowledge system, and treatment is wherein instruction is brought back out from it (Abbott 1988: 40). During the process of diagnosis, relevant information about the client is assembled into a picture of the client's needs. This picture is then categorized into a proper diagnostic category. This process consists of two sub-processes known as colligation and classification. ?Colligation is the first step in which the professional knowledge system begins to structure the observed problems (Abbott 1988: 41). Colligation is the forming of a picture of the client, and consists primarily of ?rules declaring what kinds of evidence are relevant and irrelevant, valid and invalid, as well as rules specifying the admissible level of ambiguity (Abbott 1988: 41). Classification is the referral of ?the colligated picture to the dictionary of professional legitimate problems? (Abbott 1988: 41). Colligation and classification help to define which type of problems fall under which body of profession, and specifically what kind of problem it is in that particular profession. Abbott mentions that sometimes problems of classification arise. For some problems are constantly shifting classifications, and fall under more than one classification, due to their defining traits. This may lead to intervention or competition by other professions who want to assimilate the unclear problem into their own professional repertoire (Abbott 1988: 44). The procedure of ?treatment is organized around a classification system and a brokering process,? whereby results are given to the client and prescription is offered (Abbott 1988: 44). One major problem associated with treatment is the client's willingness to accept treatment. A profession that adamantly forces clients to take treatment risks losing clients to their competition who may be more flexible to their