Beyond Defining Professions

  • Edgar A BurnsEmail author


Defining professions seems straightforward but attempting to do so raises many questions and reveals assumptions in the many definitions on offer. These assumptions and meanings of profession, professionalism and professional are examined in this chapter while resisting definitional closure. Professions’ functionalist model was strongly critiqued several decades ago, resulting in a ‘death of professions’ idea imagining professions were finished or deprofessionalised. This unhelpful narrative forgot that professions are more important than ever. Professions today are often required to fit into large organisations with adjusted expertise and control responsibilities. The present discussion reframes definitions of professions by applying five ideas: ‘profession’ as a sociologically rich concept, the scientific idea of canonical forms, a paradigmatic shift and the deprofessionalisation hypothesis, and ‘profession’ in relation to the one-phenomenon-or-many concept.


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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Waikato UniversityNapierNew Zealand

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