Professional Representations – a Theoretical Possibility in the Sociology of Professions

Friday, 20 July 2018
Distributed Paper
John BRAUER, Örebro University, Sweden
A theoretical approach in the beginning of entering the research field of professions is the concept of professional representations - a development of Moscovici’s theory of social representations. Professional representations inquire how professionals develop common understanding of their work. But it also enables a dynamic understanding how these representations are constantly changing in relation to the social environment. Two persons sharing profession but working in different organizations will, according to the theory, develop different representations over time. Take two nurses graduating the same year. One starts working at a forensic psychiatric ward and the other in surgery. The two of them will develop quite different understanding of humans in their daily practice - still they share basic professional understanding. Also, two persons with different professions working in the same organization could experience a merge of representations. A social worker becoming a health counselor develops a more medicalized understanding when interacting with physicians. This, while still embracing the professional ethos of social work. These are two examples on how professional representations-theory offers a dynamic and multi-dimensional understanding of professions and what affects them.

The paper has a two-folded aim. First it presents a theoretical multi-level model for analyzing professional representations. The levels, including among else education, profession and age, are examples of sources that could affect professional representations. Second, the paper includes results from an ongoing comparative study between professional groups working in the area of vocational rehabilitation. It is a multi-method design with an exploratory approach. The variables discussed in theoretical part of the paper are tested empirical using multivariate analysis.

The theoretical model enables future multi-level analysis of professionals. It is generic which makes it applicable in different context and enables cross-comparison of different professions.