An Emerging Profession: The Development of Mechatronic Engineering in South Africa

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 09:40
Location: Hörsaal 4C G (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Quraisha DAWOOD, University of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa
The professions have perpetually arisen as a topic of contention within the sociology of professions (Hughes, 1963; Freidson, 1973; Child and Fulk, 1982; Brante, 1988; Evetts, 2003; Saks, 2012, Faulconbridge and Muzio, 2013).  However, only a few have concerned themselves with the question of how new professions emerge and become established (Nelsen and Barley, 1997; Sherman, 2010, Gorman and Sandefur, 2011). This predicament gives impetus to this study, which explores how new professions emerge in South Africa, paying particular attention to mechatronic engineering. While this profession is relatively young across the globe, it is only just being introduced in South Africa. Based on 50 interviews around the country and documentary data, this study explores how a new profession, such mechatronics, emerges in South Africa.

While literature suggests homogenous linear models (Wilensky, 1964 and Montgomery and Oliver, 2007) of professional development, I will argue, through the findings of the study that emergence or legitimisation of a profession is dependent on factors which ‘push’ it towards legitimisation (qualification, industry demand and social media) and those which ‘pull’ it away from establishment (such as cultural mandates, non-accreditation by regulatory bodies and the pressure to specialise in one of the more familiar traditional professions). These factors, and their context, result in a ‘struggle’ for legitimacy, rather than a smooth transition as previous work on professions suggest. Furthermore, I argue that a new profession does not simply move from a state of non-existence towards establishment. Rather, various streams of it may exist simultaneously in the same context. This paper will demonstrate the haphazard and pluralistic nature of an emerging profession in its struggle for legitimacy, with a focus on mechatronic engineering in South Africa. It aims to provides a basis for contexually sensitive and poignant questions into the emergence of new, necessary professions.