Professionalism: The third logic

14 April 2004

As some may know, we (MER) have a reading group. The book selected for today’s meeting was:

Freidson, E. (2001). Professionalism: The third logic. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Thus, my reading for today is that book. Some parts of these notes are shamelessly taken from my current PhD thesis draft. By my calculation, when Freidson wrote this he was 78. I hope that I can write as well when I reach that age.

For Freidson, professionalism is used “to refer to institutional circumstances in which members of occupations, rather than consumers or managers control work? (2001, p. 12). Whereas, ‘Market’, refers to those circumstances in which consumers control the work people do, and “bureaucracy’ to those in which managers are in control [of work]” (2001, p. 12). In taking such approach, to the occupational control of work, the notion of autonomy looms large. And in taking such an approach, he is harking back to his earlier work, and the ideas of authors such as Johnson (1972), Brint (1994), and Larson (1977).

Secondly, from this basic idea he derives five elements that he sees comprising an ideal type of professionalism. This is not a return to a trait based approach to definitions, but more accurately, it is intended to serve as a stable standard by which to appraise and analyze historic occupations whose characteristics vary in time and place? (Freidson, 2001, p. 127). The five interdependent elements he describes are:

  • specialized work in the officially recognized economy that is believed to be grounded in a body of theoretically based, discretionary knowledge and skill that is accordingly given special status in the labor force;
  • exclusive jurisdiction in a particular division of labor created and controlled by occupational negotiation;
  • a sheltered position in both the external and internal labor markets that is based on qualifying credentials created by the occupation;
  • a formal training program lying outside the labor market that produces qualify credentials, which is controlled by the occupation and associated with higher education; and
  • an ideology that asserts greater commitment to doing good work than to economic gain and to the quality rather than the economic efficiency of the work (Freidson, 2001, p. 127)

Having said all of that, the heart of Fredison’s book is really the notion of there being three logics at work – that of the free market (and let the buyer beware), that of the professions (let the buyer trust us), and that of the bureaucratic (let the buyer beware? I’m not sure).

As Catherine says, Freidson is unashamedly ‘for’ the professions. Actually, I’ll just drift in to talking about reading group for a moment, as it is connected. Being professionals ourselves, the book was of particular interest, as it highlights the types of issue we face everyday with the competing imperatives of managerialism, market forces, professionalism. It’s a shame that more people don’t come along—but that is indicative, I suppose, of those competing demands.

I agree with others in the group that we don’t give students a good understanding of the alternatives to the contemporary “obsessions’ with managerialism and the market. Perhaps we do need to spend more time on the subtlety and applicability of the professional form of organising.


Brint, S. G. (1994). In an age of experts: The changing role of professionals in politics and public life. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Freidson, E. (2001). Professionalism: The third logic. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Johnson, T. J. (1972). Professions and power. London: Mcmillan.

Larson, M. S. (1977). The rise of professionalism: A sociological analysis. Berkeley: University of California-Press.