Medieval Institutions

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Fri Mar 23 14:26:15 PST 2001

>At 11:44 AM 3/23/01 -0500, Yoshie Furuhashi wrote:
>>For instance, I'd rather have professors select their fellow
>>professionals, as opposed to administrators vetoing their choices,
>>even though professors' choices can be sometimes bad ones (e.g.,
>>your being canned). Professional autonomy (= the ideal of
>>self-governance) is better than total subjection to the management.
>in order to show how the "normative" ideal of what constitutes a
>"professional" (and other similar issues) is one of the most
>important places to look for one of the "five faces of
>oppression"... i want to address Carl's assumption that medicine is
>based on "science" and the status of a competent physician is now
>based on something real, rather than on something unreal, like legal
>competence. further, this discussion below addresses Yoshie's
>comments above, fleshing them out in terms of the ways in which
>asymmetries of professional power play themselves out on an everyday
>level. in general, anyone who has been through the upper middle
>class professionalizing process will recognize the following, in
>some manner, and it ought to illuminate things like why Justin was
>"banished" and why issues of cultural capital matter when it comes
>to negotiating graduate school and the political character of who
>succeeds and who fails.
>Failure to perform competently as a professional means two different
>things: failure to apply correctly the body of theoretic
>knowledge--errors in technique--AND failure to follow the code of
>conduct on which professional action rests--normative errors.
>Contra common sense, however, it is normative error that is
>penalized most heavily (Hi Justin!) when junior members or aspiring
>professionals fail to attend to the rituals of deference, demeanor
>and degradation appropriately. In professions such as surgery, where
>science cannot actually solve anything, it is actually precisely in
>such professions that mechanisms of social control subordinate
>technical performance to normative performance. <normative errors
>are, essentially, failure to kiss ass and failure to become and
>uphold the ideal of what a professional is supposed to be --the
>single white male with no responsibilities and, likely, someone to
>wipe his butt and who has the cultural capital to quickly adapt
>himself to these rituals of deference, demeanor and degradation.

1. Whether a professional is or isn't a scientist shouldn't concern the question of professionalism, since expertise is not the same as science (especially not if the term science is equated with something like physics). An airline pilot is not a scientist, but one hopes that he or she will uphold the professional code of ethics & make as few technical errors as humanly possible.

2. Norms & techniques may be analytically separable, but in practice these are often inseparable. Ideally, the professional code of ethics (= norms) should include: (1) make as few technical errors as humanly possible; (2) strive to create the working environment in which there is no fear of malicious reprisal against reporting one's own & others' errors, exposing institutional problems, attempting to address political questions that shape institutions, professions, & society in general, etc.; (3) become capable of distinguishing legitimate authority (= authority based upon superior knowledge, be it theoretical or experiential, & mastery of craft) from illegitimate one (= the Boss's demand for deference just because he or she is the Boss) & obeying the former while scorning the latter; and so on. Good norms of conduct should lead to fewer technical errors, whereas bad norms would result in more technical errors than otherwise. Therefore, appropriate socialization is indeed important -- as important as technical and/or theoretical expertise. The question is into what norms professionals should be socialized: a "conspiracy of silence" (= protection of one's peers, superiors, and/or subordinates to the detriment of clients and/or the public) or norms of good practice that lead to fewer errors & are subject to public accountability?

3. Technical errors are not homogenous, and not all of them are individual responsibilities. Overwork, for instance, leads to more technical errors than otherwise, & sometimes such errors are deadly (= deadly to clients, professionals, and/or third parties). Primary responsibility for technical errors that originate from overwork should be placed upon the ensemble of social relations that creates overwork, not upon erring overworked individuals; otherwise, the cause of such errors cannot be eradicated. Technical errors may be innocently made. Technical errors may be made by novices who should be under proper supervision of experienced practitioners but are not (due to the negligence of their superiors or institutional problems such as staff shortage or both). In such cases, it is proper that errors of the novices should be remembered but forgiven. Technical errors that should be neither forgiven nor forgotten are those that result from moral errors (e.g., malice, criminal negligence, greed, & other breaches of the code of ethics leading to technical errors).

3. Deference & degradation are not the same thing. It is sometimes though not always proper for a professional to defer to the judgments of (A) the more experienced, be they clients, peers, superiors, or inferiors; and/or (B) the public. Degradation is by definition evil, but it is not inherent in deference. Rather, degradation stems from bad working conditions; conflation of legitimate & illegitimate authority; competition for merit raises, promotion, etc.; absence of public recognition of work; and so on.

In my opinion, under capitalism, professionalism is a poor substitute for -- and often an obstacle in the path toward -- working-class solidarity. However, it doesn't have to be this way. As Wojtek argues: "Successful social democracies have been build on professions-working class alliances." So will be socialism, if we ever get around to building one, I think.


More information about the lbo-talk mailing list