The Growth of Professional Classes and the Polarization of Authority Relations in an Advanced Capitalist Economy

Friday, 20 July 2018: 10:45
Oral Presentation
D. LIVINGSTONE, University of Toronto, Canada
Authority is central to professions, but much previous research has treated professions as internally homogenous and not examined important internal differences in authority relations. Professionals make up growing proportions of the employed labour force in advanced capitalist economies (Livingstone and Scholtz 2016). But professionals are found in four distinct class positions: those who employ others; the self-employed; managers; and non-managerial employees (Livingstone 2014). This paper documents changes in the distribution of these classes of professionals both in the general class structure and among professional occupations. Two dimensions of professional authority are identified: the extent of participation in organizational decision-making and discretionary control of planning their own work. The changing exercise of authority among these professional classes is estimated in these terms. Empirical analysis is based on a distinctive series of national surveys conducted in Canada in 1982, 1998, 2004, 2010 and 2016. Findings suggest that non-managerial professional employees have diminishing authority in relation to employers and managers, becoming more similar to traditional working-class industrial and service employees. The differing negotiating power and economic attitudes of these professional classes are also assessed and implications discussed. In particular, it is argued that further studies of professional authority should distinguish rather than conflate professional classes.


Livingstone, D. W. (2014). Interrogating Professional Power and Recognition of Specialized Knowledge: A Class Analysis. European Journal for Research on the Education and Learning of Adults, 5(1): 13-29.

Livingstone, D. W. and A. Scholtz. (2016). Reconnecting Class and Production Relations in an Advanced Capitalist “Knowledge Economy”: Changing Class Structure and Class Consciousness. Capital & Class, 40(3): 469-93.