ISA World Congress of Sociology, Yokohama, Japan, July 2014

Research Committee on
Sociology of Professional Groups, RC52

RC52 main page

Program Theme: Professions and Inequality in a Globalizing World


Program Coordinators

Number of allocated sessions including Business Meeting: 18.

Professions across the globe play a key role in the making and unmaking of social inequalities. As nurses, doctors, social carers, teachers, layers, and many others they are the backbone of public sectors serving to improve both everyday life and wellbeing of the people and the functioning of societies. At the same time, professions hold elitist positions in society and claim an expert status, thereby creating (gendered, ethnic/racial, geopolitical, and other) inequalities both globally and locally. Hence, public sectors are facing radical transformations and this includes new emergent professional groups, new forms of “hybrid” and “entrepreneurial” professionalism as well as more integrated modes of professional development. Similarly, gender arrangements are changing, and globalization has added new and other ambivalences of the making and unmaking of inequalities by the professions, that are yet not well understood.

We invite abstracts that address these issues in all areas of the professions either in comparative perspective or in one dimension.


Planned sessions and dates/time subject to further changes

in alphabetical order:


Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 03:30 PM - 05:20 PM

Challenges for Professionalism in a Global Managerialism

Session Organizers
Helena SERRA, University of Lisbon, Portugal,
Tiago CORREIA, University of Lisbon, Portugal,

Session in English

The ongoing influence of neo-liberal agendas, alongside the reform of public services under the new public management has led to deep-seated changes in the way work is structured and practised across the globe. Even though the advent of managerialism has sought to limit professional autonomy, professionalism is somehow getting reinforced through either the control of management tasks or the profession’s definition of managerial criteria. Nevertheless, this feature of professionalism still lacks a consensus and has been differently approached among countries. This evidence also places professions against new inequalities as not all can control equally managerial procedures and criteria, nor are in possession of the same resources to limit the external control of managerialism.

We invite papers focusing on several topics, among others: potentially conflictual relations between professional and managerial interests; professionalism between the inclusion and the opposition of managerialism; and managerialism and internal hierarchies of professions.


Thursday, July 17, 2014: 10:30 AM - 12:20 PM

Challenges for Professionalism: Transformations, Inequalities and Ethics

Session Organizer
Christiane SCHNELL, Goethe-University Frankfurt, Germany
Helena SERRA, University of Lisbon, Portugal,
Tiago CORREIA, University of Lisbon, Portugal

Session in English


Thursday, July 17, 2014: 08:30 AM - 10:20 AM

Change and Inequality in Professional Status

Session Organizers
Lars THORUP LARSEN, University of Aarhus, Denmark,
Gitte SOMMER HARRIS, University of Aarhus, Denmark,

Session in English

It is well recognized in the field of professional sociology that members of a profession not only enjoys certain privileges or market monopolies, but typically also a given professional status. The professional status is not constant, however, since a doctor or a teacher might not enjoy the same status today as they did decades ago. Furthermore, the changing patterns of professional status might not simply reflect the public’s view of a specific profession’s knowledge or ethics. The general status of knowledge in society may change, but the same goes for the patterns of social status underlying professional groups.

With the overall aim to understand changes in professional status, this session invites papers that take into account changes over time or the comparative changes between different professions, social groups or countries. Is there a general loss of professional status or rather new inequalities emerging between the status of various professions?


Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 08:30 AM - 10:20 AM

Globalization, ICT and Professions: Emerging Trends

Session Organizers
Virendra P. SINGH, University of Allahabad, India,
Parvez A. ABBASI, VNSG University, India,

Session in English

Globalization (along with privatization and liberalization) affects not only the economy of a given society but also has important implications for other social institutions of both the developed and the developing countries. As a structural process, it also creates social inequalities at different levels by making simultaneously, inclusion/exclusion of the persons, social groups and categories. Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are at the heart of globalization which not only facilitate it but also help in maintaining integration in the social system. Transnational flows of individuals, commodities and capital affected the existing professions and their support system in various ways and also created new occupational categories with varying degree of professionalism.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 07:30 PM - 08:50 PM

Inequities within Professions: Patterns of Intra-professional Hierarchies

Session Organizer
Siddharamesh L. HIREMATH, Gulbarga University, India,

Session in English

Professions coming to be graded into prestige hierarchies based on their functional importance, functional autonomy, technical expertise and cost and length of training required to pursue them is a universal phenomenon. However, owing to growing intricacies and complexities, hierarchies have emerged within professions segregating professionals along trade, sector, repute, image and location of the organization, professional networks, access to know-how and technology, gender, ethnicity and the like giving rise to social grading of professional groups within professions. In some instances such grading is also based on the levels of professionalism, expertise, approach, effectiveness performance and outcome. These developments appear to have manifested in the warranted and many a time unwarranted inequalities and exclusions among those practising a profession.

This session invites papers that deal empirically and conceptually with the extent, nature, causes and consequences of inequalities within major professional groups in different social and cultural contexts.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 05:30 PM - 07:20 PM

Inter-professional Collaboration and Inequality

Session Organizer
Mike SAKS, University Campus Suffolk, United Kingdom,

Session in English

This session looks at the relationship of inter-professional collaboration with inequality in specific societies and in a more comparative and global context. It asks how far different professions can collaborate effectively across boundaries, not least where they hold different hierarchical positions in a given country and/or more globally. The obstacles to such collaboration such as interests and culture – and how they may be overcome – are also assessed.

Papers for this session are also invited on to what extent inter-professional collaboration can combat inequality in terms of broader societal impact serving the public interest. Contributions should illustrate their analysis with reference to examples from particular professional fields.

In health, for example, papers may consider the collaborative relationship and its impact in relation to inequality between the typically high ranking medical profession and such groups as midwives, nurses and social workers – as well as marginal professions like alternative practitioners. 


Monday, July 14, 2014: 10:30 AM - 12:20 PM

Knowledge Workers: Processes of Hybridization, Marketization and Subjectivation. Part I

Session Organizers
Lara MAESTRIPIERI, Polytechnic of Milan, Italy,
Emiliana ARMANO, University of Milan, Italy,
Annalisa MURGIA, University of Trento, Italy,

Session in English

Differently from traditional professions consolidated in the last century, knowledge workers are characterized by forms of professionalism that find their own peculiarity in the notion of hybridization: they perform their activity under many different typologies of work contract; they form a component of professional work that is increasingly exposed to the logic of market and they are supposed to auto-activate their own resources, empathy and individual autonomy.

The aim of this session is to develop a critical discussion on knowledge workers` conditions and subjectivities. We invite papers that explore the following areas: the representations and experiences of the no-collar workers; the mechanisms of subjectivation and strategies to seek to avoid them; the risk of precariousness and proletarization that might derive from a professionalization driven by market and, finally, their collective practices, with particular attention to new forms of coalition, sociality and social features of welfare, with their limitations and potentialities.


Thursday, July 17, 2014: 05:30 PM - 07:20 PM

Knowledge Workers: Processes of Hybridization, Marketization and Subjectivation. Part II

Session Organizers
Lara MAESTRIPIERI, Polytechnic of Milan, Italy,
Emiliana ARMANO, University of Milan, Italy,
Annalisa MURGIA, University of Trento, Italy,

Session in English


Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 08:30 AM - 10:20 AM

Professionalism and Expertise

Session Organizer
Jens-Christian SMEBY, Centre for the Study of Professions, Norway,

Session in English

One of the key characteristics of professions is that they are knowledge based occupational groups and a theoretical knowledge base is considered to be a core element of professionalism. Nevertheless, sociology has mainly concerned itself with the contextual conditions of the development of expertise and its functions in modern societies. Little attention has been paid to what expertise is, how it is developed and what kind of knowledge professionals actually use in their work. While some sociologists have called for a new sociology of expertise, the aim of this session is to explore how studies of expertise and expertise development may contribute to the sociology of professions.

The session addresses three main issues:
  1. Professionalism and expertise – similarities and differences
  2. The development of professional expertise in education and work
  3. The role of theoretical and practical knowledge and skills for professional expert performance and legitimacy


Thursday, July 17, 2014: 03:30 PM - 05:20 PM

Professions, Incentives and Interests

Session Organizer
Ruth MCDONALD, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom,

Session in English

The subject of incentives has been studied widely by economists, particularly in a context where financial incentives are increasingly being used to try to influence professional behaviour and identity. The topic has received less attention from sociologists, yet incentives financial and otherwise, are important features of the landscape in which all professionals work. Linked to this, sociologists have also paid less attention to the concept of ‘interests’ than it deserves. Engaging with the topics of incentives and interests in relation to professions does not imply acceptance of economists’ views of these terms.

This session therefore invites conceptual and empirical papers which bring a sociological lens to the issues of incentives and interests in relation to professional groups, to shed new light and stimulate debate on these issues.


Friday, July 18, 2014: 10:30 AM - 12:20 PM

RC52 Business Meeting


Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 10:30 AM - 12:20 PM

Rethinking Professions: Visions and Divisions in World Perspective

Session Organizer
Ellen KUHLMANN, Goethe-University Frankfurt, Germany,

Session in English

Not open for abstract submission.

The transformations of societies into service economies have created a new importance of the sociology of professions across the globe. Yet the developments embody also many challenges that impact in the concepts of professions and professionalism. These transformations may play out differently in the various parts of the world, because the professions are firmly nested in institutional contexts, culture and economy of societies.

This invited panel discussion brings together researchers from different countries. The aim is twofold: first, to place the contemporary developments in the professions in a world perspective and reveal the blind spots and divisions of existing theories; and second, to create visions of an international sociology of professions that is more sensitive to diversity and social contexts and that helps to better understand how professions may foster social equality.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 05:30 PM - 07:20 PM

The Changing Relationship between Clinical Professionalism and Management: From Polarisation to Hybridization?

Session Organizers
Ian KIRKPATRICK, University of Leeds, United Kingdom,
Mike DENT, University of Staffordshire, United Kingdom,
Federico LEGA, Bocconi Management School, Italy

Session in English

In health systems around the world there has been a common focus on strengthening the management capabilities of hospitals and other provider organisations. A key question arising from this concerns the shifting relationship between clinical professionals and management. In most health systems doctors and nurses are being co-opted into management and leadership roles and asked to focus increasingly on the financial performance of health services. However, the consequences remain unclear. On the one hand it is suggested that these changes are leading to greater polarisation between managers and clinicians, or, after Freidson, re-stratification within the professions themselves. Against this is the suggestion that clinical professionalism itself is changing leading to hybrid identities and practices that mainstream management concerns and priorities.

The aim of this session is to explore these themes and also think about their impact on the way health services are delivered and the experiences of patients.


Friday, July 18, 2014: 08:30 AM - 10:20 AM

Theoretical Challenges for Professions and Professionalism: Changes, Inequalities, Values and Ideologies

Session Organizer
Julia EVETTS, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom,

Session in English

Change is a constant feature of professional, knowledge-based, service-sector work and occupational control of the work and discretionary decision-making is increasingly difficult to sustain. Professional work both helps to alleviate and yet at the same time contributes to the maintenance of inequalities, nationally and internationally. Professionalism can be interpreted both as an occupational value and something worth preserving but also as an ideology and mechanism of social control and unequal power. New questions are being asked about professions and professionalism and some established theories seem less relevant in different time periods, policy contexts, areas and geographical regions. Also new knowledge-based occupations develop which pose new questions and challenges to and for theories of professionalism.

We look forward to receiving abstract proposals which support and/or challenge existing theories and interpretations and welcome new interpretations and suggestions of new concepts for professions and professionalism in a globalising world.


Joint Sessions

Click on the session title to read its description and the scheduled day/time.

Globalization and Human Resources for Health in Asian Countries

Joint session of RC15 Sociology of Health and RC52 Sociology of Professional Groups [host committee]


Governing the Health Professions: Bringing Equality into Health Human Resources Policy

Joint session of RC15 Sociology of Health and RC52 Sociology of Professional Groups [host committee]


Professional Labour in a Globalized World: The Cross-Bordering and Internationalization of Knowledge Workers

Joint session of RC30 Sociology of Work and RC52 Sociology of Professional Groups [host committee]


Restructuring Care Policies and (Re-)Making Care Professions

Joint session of RC19 Poverty, Social Welfare and Social Policy and RC52 Sociology of Professional Groups [host committee]



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March 2014