The Rise and Fall of Professional Authority
Authority is not the most elaborated concept in the sociology of professions, perhaps because the issue has been treated under other headlines such as professional power and jurisdiction. In a classic formulation, authority is defined as ‘advice which cannot safely be ignored’. This captures a range of situations where actors outside the professions may feel compelled to follow the expertise and discretionary advice of professionals even if they are not technically forced to do so or if they would prefer not to follow the advice.
Considering the changing social and political organization of knowledge, however, there may be good reasons to reconsider the constitution and development of authority more generally. While some social theorists claim a larger dependence on specialized expertise in 'reflexive modernization', narratives of decline are also common. Professional authority may for instance be challenged by clients’ access to information, detailed political regulation or the growth of non-state actors (e.g. industry, patient groups).
This panel calls for papers that investigate any aspect related to the authority of professionals, whether mainly theoretical or empirical in scope. Given the relatively premature state of existing scholarship in the field, contributions that seek to understand different dimensions of authority or the factors that may serve to strenghten or threaten authority in given contexts are particularly welcome. It is also of interest to consider how authority varies between professional groups as well as between different citizen groups, and not least how different forms of political regulation may affect or challenge authority.