Lawyers, professors, doctors, and ministers have traditionally been considered professionals. In recent years, however, a multitude of other occupations have vied for professional status. The unique traits of a profession are typically used to differentiate professions from other occupations. Factors such as extensive training, specialized knowledge, rigorous standards for admission and practice, a high degree of internalized self-control, an orientation to serving the public good, legal recognition through licensure and certification, as well as membership in and control by a professional organization were deemed the distinguishing characteristics that set professions off from other occupations. The proliferation in recent years of occupations that in one way or another fit these characteristics has shifted the definition from a trait approach to one that emphasizes the social power of a profession. Occupations, according to the power perspective, cannot be neatly sorted into professional and nonprofessional categories but can be viewed on a continuum ranging from low to high power. Professions lie at the high power end of the spectrum since they exhibit two distinguishing characteristics: monopoly and dominance
The power approach focuses on the extent to which an occupation controls the nature of its own work and that of other occupations. A profession, in short, tries to gain a monopoly on a segment of the labor market for its members and then controls who gets into the profession, how they are trained, the conditions of their work, who they work for, under what type of regulations they work, and how much they are paid. In addition, a profession tries to free itself from the control of other occupations and indeed attempts to dominate the work of other work groups. Physicians for example rank high on the professional spectrum since they control the nature and conditions of their work and dominate related occupations -- medical technicians, nurses, physical therapists, and pharmacists. Although the power perspective is widely used in analyzing professions it does not provide discrete categories for labeling occupations as professions.
Prior to World War II Mennonites were conspicuously absent from many of the professions. A variety of reasons accounted for their aversion to the professions. Anticlerical attitudes and a scathing critique of professional pastors at the outset of the Anabaptist movement in the 16th century became embedded in Mennonite thinking for several centuries. The intense persecution in Europe created a sectarian mentality of suspicion and caution toward the dominant culture, a mentality that was reinforced by a separatist and rural social life in many Mennonite congregations throughout the 19th century (nonconformity). Professions were viewed as worldly pursuits of power, prestige, and status -- at the very center of the worldly social system -- and thus incongruent with the quiet values of humility and separation that were the hallmark of Mennonite life. Vigorous teaching of the church against the use of law for resolving conflicts resulted in a particularly stern rejection of the practice of law as an acceptable Mennonite occupation.
Thus, well into the 20th century the rural, and separatist subculture that undergirded Mennonite life was not oriented toward the professions. Teaching and medicine with their emphasis on humanitarian service were the first professions to become widely accepted among Mennonites. Since World War II Mennonites have moved into virtually the full spectrum of professional life propelled by a variety of factors. Involvement in alternative service during World War II and in the following years of military draft placed many Mennonites into urban areas and exposed them to professional life, especially to medical occupations. The decline in farming (agriculture), the spread of urbanization, the rise in education and the cultural assimilation (acculturation) of many Mennonite groups in the last half of the 20th century nudged many members into professions. Amish and Old Order Mennonite groups that continue to reject higher education and embrace an agrarian life-style have little if any involvement in the professions.
In a national study of five Mennonite groups in 1972 Kauffman and Harder discovered that 27 percent of the employed men and 38 percent of the employed women were involved in professional and technical occupations. This compared to 14 and 15 percent respectively for males and females in the United States at large. Thus by 1972 Mennonites had not only entered the professions but had penetrated them more heavily than the population at large. In some communities the transition from plow to profession was rapid. In 1974 Hostetler and his colleagues reported a study of Mennonite high school students in the Lancaster community where 2 percent of their grandfathers and 9 percent of their fathers were involved in professions, but 47 percent of the students aspired to a professional job -- identical to the responses of non-Mennonite students in the same community. Thus in a matter of two generations Mennonites were matching the level of professionalism in the larger society. Yoder, in a study of the Mennonite Church (MC) in 1982, reported that 16 percent of the employed men and 27 percent of the employed women were working in professional and technical occupations compared to 15 and 16 percent respectively for the United States labor force (Yoder, MC Census). The high number of employed Mennonite women working as professionals likely results from their employment as teachers, nurses, and social workers, occupations congruent with the Mennonite service ethic. In the last third of the 20th century Mennonites were entering virtually all types of professions. The 1976 Mennonite Business and Professional Directory reported the following number of persons in selected professions: lawyers (33), physicians and surgeons (145), professors (120), psychiatrists (5), and psychologists (12). Entertainment, politics, and the ministry were not listed as occupations in the directory. Mennonite congregations in recent years have increasingly employed professional, seminary-trained pastors in a complete turnabout from the anticlericalism of the early days of the Anabaptist movement (pastoral education). There are two notable trends in the Mennonite exodus from the farm. Many Mennonites have gone directly from plow to profession thus bypassing a whole array of blue collar occupations. The service orientation of the professions as well as the independence and autonomy of the farmer likely contributed to this frequent mobility from farm to profession. As they moved into the professional world, Mennonites have organized specialized professional groups to provide fellowship, community and identity. Mennonite professional associations have been organized by physicians, lawyers, and mental health professionals, to name just a few.
Kraybill, Donald B. and Phyllis Pellman Good, eds. Perils of Professionalism. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1982.
Freidson, Eliot. The Professions and Their Prospects. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publication, 1973.
Doctoring Together. NY: Elsevier, 1975.
Student and Young Adult Services. Professionalism: Faith, Ethics, and Christian Identity. Elkhart, IN: Mennonite Board of Missions, 1978.
Conflict in the World of Professions. Elkhart, IN: Mennonite Board of Missions, 1979.
Kauffman, J. Howard and Leland Harder, eds. Anabaptists Four Centuries Later: a Profile of Five Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Denominations. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1975: 60-61.
Yoder, Michael L. "Findings From the 1982 Mennonite Census." Mennonite Quarterly Review 59 (1985): 307-49.
Mennonite Business and Professional People' 's Directory 1976. Mt. Pleasant, PA: Mennonite Business Associates, 1976.
Hostetler, John A., Gertrude Enders Huntington, and Donald B. Kraybill. Cultural Transmission and Instrumental Adaptation to Social Change: Lancaster Mennonite High School in Transition, Final Report. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, 1974: 110-111.
Miller, E. E. "Opportunities in the Professions." Christian Living (September 1956): 16-17.
Loewen, Harry, ed., Mennonite Images: Historical, Cultural, and Literary Essays. Winnipeg: Hyperion, 1980: 137ff.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 724-726. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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