Theory of professions

Tor Arne Dahl, 2013-01-07


Definition (Oxford Dictionary of English)

profession (noun)

  1. a paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification: his chosen profession of teaching | a barrister by profession.
    [treated as sing. or pl.] a body of people engaged in a particular profession: the legal profession has become increasingly business-conscious.
  2. an open but often false claim: his profession of delight rang hollow.
  3. a declaration of belief in a religion.
    the declaration or vows made on entering a religious order.
    [mass noun] the ceremony or fact of being professed in a religious order: after profession she taught in Maidenhead.

The literature on professions

Characteristics of professions (typology)

The ideal professions

The system of professions (Abbott, 1988)

Jurisdictional contests

Professional work

Professional practice


The model and the dynamics

Disturbances and change

  1. A disturbance occurs
  2. Fight for jurisdiction
  3. The professions negotiate new jurisdictional settlements, stabilizing the system

Jurisdictional settlements

Cognitive strategies

Professions can expand their jurisdiction using different cognitive strategies

The information professions

Help clients so overwhelmed by data that they cannot retrieve useful and important information

Two types of professional work




Work tasks

Manage printed material on behalf of a community or an organization

Three approaches

External disturbances

Technology: Computers

Internal disturbances


External threats

Abbott's view on the information professionals


Many librarians have responded slowly to new information technologies like the Web. Some librarians feel that their value as professionals will be diminished as "virtual libraries" supplant those filled with physical books and periodicals. Many librarians fear that the public will bypass them and go directly to the source via the Internet. The truth is, however, that skills in information organization and access are more and more necessary in this era of information explosion. We have found that the demand for our skills in classifying and organizing information in web sites has grown beyond our wildest dreams, so we believe that you, your sites, and their users will benefit from our profession's perspective.

(Louis Rosenfeld & Peter Morville (1998): Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, p. xiv)

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Tor Arne Dahl
Last modified: 2 January 2013