Professional Marginalization in the Academy
When the nature of work is examined, issues of power and control
emerge as important signposts to understanding that work. The
idea of power concerns both the ability to make decisions and
the scope and effect of the consequences of those decisions.
Issues of power include who has it and who does not, and these
issues often concern gender. This paper will investigate the
gendered university environment in terms of the power possessed
and exercised by professions, and the nature of power within
the university as a place of work.
Professions and Power
It is no mistake that powerful professions have been traditionally
dominated by males. Female dominated disciplines are subordinate
to male disciplines primarily because of gender. Nursing for
example is subordinate to medicine. In powerful professions females
tend to occupy positions of less power within the profession.
For example, in pharmacy, females tend to occupy the lower paid
positions, which involve caring and nurturing behaviour within
the profession (Muzzin, 2001). Mcpherson (1996) asserts that
women have been assigned the role of being nurturers because
it subordinates them to more `important' male positions.
Knowledge is not a neutral concept but is instead subject to
the imposition of values that determine its relative worth. It
is the traditionally male dominated groups who assign the relative
importance of the knowledge within individual professions based
on what is traditionally valued by those groups. Freidson (1986)
states: "Professional groups including scientists and academics
are often represented as the creators and proponents of particular
bodies of knowledge that play important roles in shaping both
social policy and the institutions of everyday life" (Freidson,
1986, p. ix).
In the university, scientific knowledge traditionally holds
the most value. In other words, within the university, "science
is everything and science quite clearly is male" (Muzzin,
2001, p. 35). Universities need to legitimize the knowledge they
construct and convey, and they need to legitimate their control
over this knowledge. According to Abbott (1988), professions
do this by "attaching their expertise to values of rationality,
efficiency, and science" (p. 16). Scientific or male knowledge
is therefore legitimated.
Power within the university workplace
Witz (1992) claims that professional spaces are dominated by
patriarchal capitalism. This informs decisions as to who occupies
the positions of power within the institution. Witz (1992) refers
to this phenomenon as occupational closure, which is characterized
by the marginalization of women and other minorities to positions
of little power.
This marginalization becomes apparent in examples such as that
of part-time language teachers who work in an intensive English
language program within a university. Feldberg (2002) writes: "Ninety
percent of language teachers, full time and part time, are women.
The university's thirty year policy has been to depend heavily
on part time, hourly paid teachers to deliver its core courses,
not merely to take up slack or inject new blood; now, part timers
assume responsibility for over 50 percent of the department's
instruction and student-contact hours, and this percentage continues
to grow" (p.56). Language teaching is therefore a female
ghetto as far as work is concerned. In Feldberg's example these
part time positions are not transitions to full time meaningful
work. In fact, "Many part timers have been in the department
long term, most for more than ten years and some for well over
twenty years" (p. 57).
Those who teach in this area are not subject to the same privilege
as others who teach within the university. As Feldberg (2002)
points out: "Working on part time hourly rate teaching contracts
brought me to experience in earnest the rotten core of marginalization:
disrespect for my time, intellectual property, academic freedoms,
qualifications, experiences, and professional aspirations" (p.
58). Demonstrations of skilled expertise and specialized professional
knowledge "are simply regarded as volunteer work when carried
out by part time professors, and are largely unpaid and unattributed" (Feldberg,
There is a question as to whether these individuals can be called
professionals when they carry out their work, as a profession
concerns a certain degree of control over one's labour (Freidson,
1986), and these workers have little control over their work.
Instead, women in these positions may be `semi-professionals'.
According to Witz (1992), semi-professions are those in which
women predominate but are subordinate to the true professions
which are male dominated. This may be part of the `hidden curriculum'
of the university environment. In other words, male dominated
cultures encourage marginalizing attitudes towards women, which
relegate women to positions of little power within the institutions
(Tierney & Bensimon, 1996).
Powerful professions are male dominated and less powerful female
dominated professions are subordinate to male professions. Universities
dominated by male models of science value some types or forms
of knowledge above others. The knowledge constructed within the
university is not neutral, but is constructed deliberately, and
concerns the gender of the individual who possesses or constructs
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