International Research Conference, Lancaster UK, 21-23 July 2014
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Professions and professional education that serve the public interest

Peter Kahn,
Centre for Lifelong Learning, University of Liverpool. kahn@liv.ac.uk


The professions make a significant contribution to society at large, but to what extent do they prioritise the interests of clients? Are there ways in which client interests are downplayed in relation to agendas determined by States or by professionals themselves? Indeed, concerns are often raised over the way that professional practice is conducted. In this conceptual paper, we draw on the paradigm of critical realism and on Margaret Archer’s account of the way that reflexivity mediates the impact of social and cultural structures on agency. We argue that the requirement for a professional to undertake action in the service of a client represents a fundamental mechanism that engenders reflexivity. While professions differ from each other in the extent to which professionals need to navigate their way through uncertainty, each professional needs to acquire knowledge and expertise to deal with the provisionality entailed. We identify a range of structural influences on this reflexivity, even as scope remains for professionals to react to these influences in different ways. In particular, we consider the influence on reflexivity of different organisational and regulatory constraints, and of varied approaches to the integration of social relations into professional settings. As a result, we are able to present an overview of ways in which structures operating within different settings influence the reflexivity of professionals. This provides a means to consider whose interests are prioritised. The analysis enables us to draw together conceptualisations of professional setting from the management literature into a single perspective, offering further insight into the way that professional settings vary from each other. There are implications from this analysis for the education of professionals and for the development of their careers, as well as for the organisation of professional life. Awareness of self-in-professional-setting represents an important professional trait, and an essential element of any agenda for professional education that takes into account whose interests are served. Furthermore, changes in the basis on which professional life is organised affect how professionals exercise reflexivity, with consequences for such issues as levels of regulation, modes of organisation, access to the professions, whistleblowing and retention of professionals. It is essential that professionals, and organisations and regulatory bodies for professionals, are more keenly aware of the mediating influence of reflexivity. Such understanding is essential if the professions are to develop a greater sensitivity to the public interest.

Link to Full Paper (If submitted)

Conference Organisers

Paul Trowler
Lancaster University, UK

Alice Jesmont
Lancaster University, UK

Malcolm Tight
Lancaster University, UK

Paul Ashwin
Lancaster University, UK

Murray Saunders
Lancaster University, UK

Chrissie Boughey
Rhodes University, South Africa

Suellen Shay
University of Cape Town, SA

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