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Professional Impurities

Professional Work: Knowledge, Power and Social Inequalities

ISBN: 978-1-80043-211-6, eISBN: 978-1-80043-210-9

ISSN: 0277-2833

Publication date: 15 October 2020


Professionals often dislike dirty work, yet they accommodate or even embrace it in everyday practice. This chapter problematizes Andrew Abbott’s professional purity thesis by examining five major forms of impurities in professional work, namely impurity in expertise, impurity in jurisdictions, impurity in clients, impurity in organizations, and impurity in politics. These impurities complicate the relationship between purity and status as some impurities may enhance professional status while others may jeopardize it, especially when the social origins of professionals are rapidly diversifying and professional work is increasingly intertwined with the logics of market and bureaucracy. Taking impurities seriously can help the sociology of professions move beyond the idealistic image of an independent, disinterested professional detached from human emotions, turf battles, client influence, and organizational or political forces and towards a more pragmatic understanding of professional work, expertise, ethics and the nature of professionalism.




The author thanks Maria J. Azocar, Ellen Berrey, Anne Bowers, Siyin Chen, Clayton Childress, Ronit Dinovitzer, Laura Doering, Alicia D. Eads, Elizabeth H. Gorman, Angelina Grigoryeva, Steve G. Hoffman, Kim Pernell, Ashley T. Rubin, Steven P. Vallas, and anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of the chapter.


Liu, S. (2020), "Professional Impurities", Gorman, E.H. and Vallas, S.P. (Ed.) Professional Work: Knowledge, Power and Social Inequalities (Research in the Sociology of Work, Vol. 34), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 147-167.



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