The Sociological Study of Expert Knowledge Work: Current Trends and Changes in the Study of the Professions, Professionalization, and Professionalism
Fisher, Dana R
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This dissertation is a collection of three papers, separate but related investigations in the sociological study of expert knowledge. Drawing on the theoretical perspectives developed in the study of the professions, this work continues the current trend of applying the revised concepts to occupational groups that more accurately reflect contemporary economic arrangements. To contribute to the most recent trends in the study of expert knowledge, this dissertation endeavors to integrate the concepts of professionalism and professionalization to the study of expert knowledge—specifically, a group’s ability to control an area of labor and define its practice. The first case study builds on previous research pertaining to professionalization to argue control over consumers is integral to understanding how expert knowledge is leveraged and cordoned off from competition. Using a qualitative approach to the study of tattoo artists and their interactions with clientele and the public, the findings provide support for recognizing informal and formal means of control over consumers, in addition to controls over standards of practice and membership. The second case study investigates the professionalization of volunteer work. This study aims to explicate the ways in which volunteer work may operate and be understood in the same ways as paid occupational groups. Employing survey and in-depth interview data to evaluate the effects of volunteers’ training, the study reveals training programs for volunteer work can instill a sense legitimacy in volunteers and make them more effective in their work, however, like other occupational groups, to attain social closure they would also need a strong, active network of members and a coordinated means of influencing their public image. The last case study investigates how professionalism is maintained or diminished in the wake of change spurred by external bureaucratic arrangements. Taking faculty members of higher education as the focus of this study, situating them in the context of expanding enrollments and online course instruction, this work demonstrates how professionalism is exercised through defining problems in terms of their expertise. In that way, engagement with problems posed by external pressures may foster disciplinary identity and new boundaries of professional practice.