- Regulating Professions: The Emergence of Professional Self-Regulation in Four Canadian Provinces by Tracey L. Adams
Much has been written on the sociology of professions. In fact, some scholars have gone so far as to suggest that the study of the sociology of professions is complete and that we should now refocus on the term “expertise” in organizations. I am happy to report that Tracey Adams offers a convincing argument that this is not the case. Offering a valuable contribution to both the professionalization literature and to the history of professions in Canada, Adams encourages others to continue this work.
Adams begins with a succinct, but informative, primer of the sociological theory of professions, covering such scholars as Andrew Abbott, Michel Foucault, Eliot Freidson, Terence Johnson, Magali Sarfatti Larson, and Anne Witz. Then, following an analysis of historical developments in various Canadian professions, she revisits theory by highlighting its applicability and pointing out where it falls short in its explanatory capacity. She concludes that future research should seek to integrate a variety of theories in studies of the evolution of professions and professional projects.
In her work, Adams draws on archival material and legislative debates to inform excellent illustrative case studies. She splits her analysis into two distinct periods. First, her text deals with self-regulation in medicine, dentistry, and land surveying in the period between Confederation and 1900. Land surveying, a neglected area in the history of professions, offers an intriguing contribution. Adams’ discussion of this profession – its early history and its unique relationship with the Crown – makes it important. In the second time frame, 1900–40, Adams introduces us to three new professional projects: optometry, nursing, and engineering. While admitting that 1900–40 is somewhat arbitrary, she argues that it is still a useful time frame because it covers a period of expansion in a number of professions and the concurrent development of new legislative approaches to regulation. Perhaps the most prominent change in legislative approach was the influential 1918 Hodgins’ commission report on health professions in Ontario, a commission that impacted government regulation well into the 1960s.
Finally, after examining these six professions over two distinct periods, Adams contrasts their experiences with those of the so-called “drugless healers” (for example, osteopaths and chiropractors). Her account of the regulatory battles of these professions and their medical opponents illustrates the various economic, social, and political factors that contribute to the success or failure of professionalization. In a sense, she strengthens her already valuable analysis by studying both winners and losers. Indeed, her telling quotes, carefully selected from archival materials, give a vivid picture of how the drugless healers’ social standing was regarded as inferior by legislators who identified more easily with the well-educated “gentlemen” of more established professions like law and medicine. Yet, as Adams points out, the politicians also tempered their legislation by considering the wishes of their constituents who both utilized the services of osteopaths and chiropractors and wrote in their support. In this, [End Page 149] Adams challenges the popular assumption that politicians were simply “rubber stampers” of the established professions’ wish lists. This marks an important contribution of Regulating Professions to the literature.
Another strong feature of Adams’ work is her use of case studies from four different provinces: Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia. This offers an important contextual and comparative perspective, allowing us to see the ways in which each particular jurisdiction influenced professionalization outcomes in differing manners. Since Canada had self-regulated professions via legislation earlier than many other nations, by studying four provincial jurisdictions, Adams broadens our understanding of Canada’s contribution to the history of professions.
Adams’ work is a robust example of archival research. This is a very good resource for researchers interested in both the history and sociology of professions. For instance, Regulating Professions offers a framework for my research on the development of the accounting profession in Canada, including the recent merger of three competing designations. Adams’ thorough analysis of legislative debates contributes...