Sci-Hub | Anti-Professionalism. New Literary History, 17(1), 89 | 10.2307/468981

In short, [in the anti-professionalist view] the actor enmeshed in a system is doing things for the wrong reasons, not for the reasons that would recommend themselves to him if he were not thus "constricted," but for reasons that attach to the limited and suspect goals of the professional enterprise.

In this opposition of the central or essential to the superficial or ephemeral we have the essence of the long quarrel between rhetoric and philosophy, a quarrel that philosophy has by and large won, since more often than not rhetoric is identified as the art of illegitimate appeal, as a repertoire of tricks or manipulative techniques by means of which some special interest, or point of view, or temporary fashion passes itself off as the truth. The rhetorical, then, is that which stands between us and the truth, obscuring it, preventing us from allying ourselves with it, and tying us instead to some false or partial god.

That is, if one is operating from within what we might call an ideology of essences-a commitment to the centrality and ultimate availability of transcendent truths and values-one will necessarily view with suspicion and fear activities and structures that are informed by partisan purposes (the spirits of advocacy and vanity) and directed toward local and limited (that is, historical) goals. Antiprofessionalism, in short, follows inevitably from essentialism, so much so that an essentialist who wishes in some sense to give professionalism its due cannot avoid falling into the anti-professionalist stance.

The word illusion marks the passage (apparently unnoticed by the author) from observation to judgment, from the description of something as conventional and historical to the declaration that therefore it is unreal. But one cannot say that because literature and literary theory are conventional-that is, effects of discourse-they are illusory without invoking as a standard of illusion a reality that is independent of convention, as essential reality; and once one has done that (however knowingly or unknowingly) the familiar anti-professionalist complaint against structures and practices that stand between us and what is true and valuable and sincere cannot be far behind.

It might seem that the only alternative to anti-professionalism is quietism or acquiescence in the status quo because by discrediting it, I have taken away the basis on which this or that professional practice might be criticized. But in fact, the only thing that follows from my argument is that a practice cannot (or should not) be criticized because it is professional, because it is underwritten by institutionally defined goals and engaged in for institution-specific reasons; for since there are no goals and reasons that are not institutional, that do not follow from the already in-place assumptions, stipulated definitions, and categories of understanding of a socially organized activity, it makes no sense to fault someone for acting in the only way one can possibly act. This does not, however, rule out opposition, for someone can always be faulted for acting in institutional ways that have consequences you deplore; and you can always argue that certain institutional ways (and their consequences) should be altered or even abolished, although such arguments will themselves be made on behalf of other institutional ways (and their consequences).

It is an ideology both because it serves certain well-defined interests (despite its claims to neutrality and to equal access) and because it is at variance with the facts as Larson understands them. She points out that rather than owing nothing to society, the professional owes everything to society, including the self whose independence is his strongest claim and justification. That is, it is only with reference to the articulation and hierarchies of a professional bureaucracy that a sense of the self and its worth-its merit-emerge and become measurable.

A professional must find a way to operate in the context of purposes, motivations, and possibilities that precede and even define him and yet maintain the conviction that he is "essentially the proprietor of his own person and capacities." The way he finds is anti-professionalism. As we have seen again and again, antiprofessionalism is by and large a protest against those aspects of professionalism that constitute a threat to individual freedom, true merit, genuine authority. It is therefore the strongest representation within the professional community of the ideals which give that community its (ideological) form. Far from being a stance taken at the margins or the periphery, anti-professionalism is the very center of the professional ethos, constituting by the very vigor of its opposition the true form of that which it opposes. Professionalism cannot do without anti-professionalism; it is the chief support and maintenance of the professional ideology; its presence is a continual assertion and sign of the purity of the profession's intentions. In short, the ideology of anti-professionalism-of essential and independent values chosen freely by an independent self-is nothing more or less than the ideology of professionalism taking itself seriously.

What this means, finally, is that even if one is convinced (as I am) that the world he sees and the values he espouses are constructions, or, as some say, "effects of discourse," that conviction will in no way render that world any less perspicuous or those values any less compelling. It is thus a condition of human life always to be operating as an extension of beliefs and assumptions that are historically contingent, and yet to be holding those beliefs and assumptions with an absoluteness that is the necessary consequence of the absoluteness with which they hold-inform, shape, constitute-us.

I came upon this because I was really looking for criticisms of The Professions made on the grounds that they are too siloed from wider society, and I think that's sort of rattling around within Eagleton's complaint. It isn't that there isn't social validation of (whatever we're agreeing counts as) professionalist nonsense, it's that the institutions that provide that validation are not capital-S Society. But it's fun to get to that ending excerpt and find the intellectual tension between the absolute and contingent that is both irrefutable (in any satisfying way) and unacceptable (in any sense that demands satisfaction).