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Profession: a useful concept for sociological analysis?

RECENTLY IN CANADA, THE UNITED KINGDOM, and elsewhere, we appear to be witnessing fundamental change to what have traditionally been seen as some of the most autonomous, rewarding, and distinctive jobs in the labor market. Numerous studies document the loss of autonomy, status, and authority within established professions like medicine, and illustrate that while new professional groups are being created, they tend to have less autonomy and authority than did their predecessors (Beardwood 1999; Brazier et al. 1993; Coburn 1999). In common parlance, the term "profession" typically refers to paid employment or any occupation; its sociological usage to refer to a special kind of occupation with status and privileges appears increasingly divorced from social reality. Some scholars have argued that professions are in a state of decline; becoming subordinate and indistinguishable from other forms of expert labor (Leicht and Fennell 2001; Ritzer and Walczak 1988; Rothman 1984).

The apparent decline of professions can be linked to labor market change: with the expansion of the "knowledge economy," an expanding services sector, and credential inflation, there are many occupations in the labor market that require education and expertise, and provide service to the public. Education, training, and a service orientation no longer appear to distinguish professions from other occupations. Furthermore, traditional professions like medicine and law appear to be changing: becoming increasingly controlled in larger bureaucratic settings, and enjoying less autonomy and authority than they did in the past (Coburn 1994; Ritzer and Walczak 1988; Rothman 1984). Occupations not traditionally regarded as professions, like management, are coming to dominate professions, usurping the authority and autonomy once seen to be the perquisites of professional practice (Leicht and Fennell 2001). The end result is a growing belief that professions are in decline, and that the concept itself may not be as relevant a category for sociological analysis as it was in the past.

In the sociological literature, this dim view may also be the legacy of one of the last great American works on professions, Andrew Abbott's (1988) System of Professions. Abbott sought to shift the course of research on professions away from professionalization--the processes through which occupations come to acquire professional status and/or characteristics--toward the work that professionals did, and their ability to lay claim to a scope of practice, or jurisdiction, as well as interprofessional conflict for control of jurisdictions. While Abbott's shift of focus was valuable and spurred research on interprofessional conflict, his emphasis on jurisdiction appears to apply equally to any occupation with a claim to expertise in a specific field of endeavor. In his work there are no apparent differences between expert occupations with professional status, and those without it (Adams 2004; Sciulli 2005). Status--one of the key characteristics traditionally argued to distinguish professions from other expert occupations (Vollmer and Mills 1965)--is largely forgotten.

Is "profession" a useful concept for sociological analysis? Problems with definition have plagued the field for over 60 years. Definitional debates were prominent from the 1950s through the 1970s, before being generally abandoned in the 1980s and 1990s because no single definition could fully capture the complexity of professional employment and its variations across time and place (Adams and Welsh 2007; Macdonald 1995). This move was a beneficial one that enabled researchers to focus on other aspects of professional development and change. The outcome, however, was a plethora of case studies that, while very informative, do not enable us to see professions as a distinct group of occupations, sharing many commonalities, and distinguishable from other occupations. We currently lack the theoretical and empirical tools for identifying and analyzing professions.

This paper presents the preliminary findings of an historical research project examining professional regulation in Canada. Defining professions for the purposes of analysis was a problematic methodological consideration. What occupations were considered "professions" historically, and did provincial governments regulate professions differently from other occupational groups? If so, how? As I reviewed the legislation regulating occupational groups, it became clear that professions could be distinguished from others by the self-governance and authority they were granted, and typically by the training required for entry to practice. A focus on these characteristics enables the researcher to demarcate--at least historically--professional groups from other occupations. In this paper, I identify the many professions regulated in this manner in five Canadian provinces before the early 1960s, and I discuss how professional regulation is distinguishable from other types of occupational regulation during this period. Moreover, I explore whether a consideration of regulatory status contributes to our ability to identify and conceptualize professions more broadly. A focus on "regulation" redirects attention back to a consideration of "status," which has long been seen as central to the study of professions, and draws attention to the relationships that professional legislation structures--relations between professions and the state, the public and other occupational groups. In doing so it promises to provide a means of conceptualizing professions that builds on previous definitions, but broadens them, and opens up new avenues for research.


Defining professions is not a simple task and, over the past half-century, many definitions have been provided. Research published in the 1950s and 1960s tended to follow a "trait approach," providing a list of characteristics that distinguished professions from other occupations. Traits identified varied slightly across studies. For instance, Vollmer and Mills (1965:481) following Foote (1953), stressed work that required "a specialized technique supported by a body of theory," the pursuit of careers supported by professional associations, and "status supported by community recognition" (pp. 371-80). Wilensky (1964) emphasized autonomy and a commitment to providing service. The most-used definitions considered the key traits to be the presence of professional associations, advanced training and education, an esoteric knowledge base, a service orientation and a code of ethics (Goode 1966; Greenwood 1957; Wilensky 1964). While these contributions were valuable in highlighting traits that appeared to distinguish professions from other occupations, they were strongly criticized by later researchers. Such lists were not very critical and tended to reflect the picture that professions wanted to display to the world, and not necessarily their inner nature (Johnson 1972; Roth 1974). Moreover, as the service sector expanded, and with credential inflation, many occupations were service-oriented and required education. As members of aspiring professional groups questioned, how much education and training was enough to make a profession (Adams 2004)?

Definitions advanced beginning in the 1970s emphasized power. Thus, for Freidson (1970), Johnson (1972), and others, what distinguished professions from other occupations was practitioners' ability to control their occupation, their work, and the labor of those who worked with them. For others, professions were further distinguished by their cultural authority (Starr 1982), and their ability to shape the market for their services (Larson 1977). Overall, it was professions' social influence and power in relationships with clients and other workers that distinguished them from other occupations. Where did professionals get their power? Freidson (2001) held that professions got their power from the state, but other researchers have contended that profession's organization and social closure practices granted them autonomous sources of power (Krause 1996; Murphy 1988). Research done from a "power" perspective revealed the historical processes that created professions in the United Kingdom and United States, and provided a clearer and more dynamic view of professions, professional work, and professionals' relationships with clients, the public, and other work groups.

Although the power approach has been very influential, it has not contributed a widely accepted, alternative definition of "professions." Typically, power approaches did not completely reject trait definitions and still tended to view professions as elite, organized occupations with specialized expertise and extensive training. This approach to definition underlies the "deprofessionalization" literature where "power" is regarded as the key trait possessed by professions (Ritzer and Walczak 1988). Any perceived decline in professional power appears to signal a decline in professions. Such a perspective is flawed and goes against the sophisticated, rich treatments of professional development done by researchers within the power perspective (Freidson 1970; Johnson 1982; Larson 1977; Starr 1982). Professional power can vary across time and place, as international studies of professions make clear. In fact, the independent, autonomous, and influential professions typical of the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere, were actually more state-controlled and less autonomous in Continental Western Europe (Krause 1996; Neal and Morgan 2000). Conceptualizations of professions as powerful, autonomous groups of workers have been based on a fairly limited set of experiences: predominantly prominent professions, such as medicine and law in the United States and United Kingdom, in the mid-twentieth century. Their experiences were not necessarily generalizable to other professions in these countries, or to professions in other countries, or at other points in time. In fact, Stebbins (1992) argues that most professions research has focused on occupations that he calls "client-centered" professions that provide important services to clients and are typically regulated to protect the public from harm. These professions have more power than "public-centered" professionals--like musicians and scientists--who produce works consumed by the public, but are not typically regulated by the state.

Although a growing body of research shows that the nature of professions varies across time, place, and field, the search for an overarching definition or ideal type has not abated. The most sophisticated recent contributions come from David Sciulli (2005, 2007) who, rather than provide a simple list of traits, seeks to identify overarching structural qualities that appear to differentiate professional occupations from other expert occupations across time and place. While other scholars see professional development as being linked with the rise of the modern state and the spread of capitalism (Johnson 1982; Larson 1977), Sciulli (2005) identifies professional development as far back as the mid-seventeenth century among Parisian painters and sculptors. He contends that professions can be distinguished by the following: (1) the provision of expert services in structured situations to dependent clients; (2) a commitment to advancing client and community well-being and a "fiduciary responsibility for institutional design" (p. 936); (3) collegial organization and advanced training and education; (4) provision of expert services consistent with prevailing standards of truth, and an orientation of disinterest (pp. 935-37).

Sciulli's (2005) definition is an advancement over many prior attempts, because of its focus on organization and structured relations, rather than traits. His ideal type conceptualization may succeed in being more broadly applicable than prior conceptualizations; however, as of yet it has not been extensively applied. Previous research has identified the emergence of professions as a distinctly modern phenomenon--despite the fact that many have historical antecedents in European medieval guilds (Johnson 1982, 1993; Krause 1996; Larson 1977; Reader 1966). Whether a conceptualization of professions that removes them from their social-historical context is useful--and whether seventeenth-century French painters and twenty-first-century Canadian lawyers have a great deal in common--is still to be proven. Given the extensive literature pointing to variations in professional development across time and place, there is reason to be wary of overarching conceptualizations.

In response to the theoretical ambiguity, many researchers have adopted Freidson's (1983) recommendation and treated profession as a folk concept (Gidney and Millar 1994; Heap, Millar, and Smyth 2005; Neal and Morgan 2000). As Freidson argued, there may not be a definition of "profession" that works across time and place. Rather, he suggested, researchers should explore how people in specific social-historical contexts "determine who is a professional and who is not, and how they 'make' or 'accomplish' professions by their activities" (p. 27). The label "profession" is socially valued, and its application is socially contested. As groups struggle to have this label applied to them, they may stretch and alter its meaning. Freidson's approach has been criticized for its failure to identify a clear set of characteristics that define professions (Stebbins 1992). Nonetheless, his approach is useful in historical research that aims to understand how professions have been defined in certain social-historical contexts (Gidney and Millar 1994; Heap et al. 2005). Freidson's approach reminds us that the term "profession" is socially constructed, and hence is variable, and the subject of social struggle and debate. Furthermore, it reminds us of the importance of "status" to professions.

Professions are status groups in the Weberian sense. According to Weber (1978) occupational status groups emerge when people sharing a status situation--"a position of positive or negative privilege in social esteem" associated with their lifestyle and occupation--form an association, claim status, and, typically, pursue "certain special monopolies on the grounds of their status" (p. 60). Although status groups can emerge among occupations sharing a low social status, those that have a high level of social status, are commonly labeled "professions." Status has been defined as "the power to elicit respect" (Clark 1995:15). Two different types of status have traditionally been crucial for professions (Adams and Welsh 2007:255). First, is the nebulous dimension of "social status"; successful professions are, on average, held in high esteem by members of the public. Respect for professional groups is never ubiquitous, but many occupations labeled professions by sociologists, like medicine, law, dentistry, architecture, and engineering, tend to rank near the top of occupational prestige rankings (Boyd 2008; Pineo and Porter 1967). Second, is legal status: In Canada and other western countries, most groups studied as professions by researchers, and regarded with high esteem by the public are regulated by the state. It is generally through legal avenues that professionals seek to secure the "special monopolies" noted by Weber. Many professions, then, have a privileged legal status that grants them rights of self-regulation, and shapes professionals' responsibilities to their clientele (Haug 1980; Rubin 1980).

Combining the insights of Freidson (1983), Weber (1978), and others, we can see that while exactly what a profession is may vary across time and place, the definition of profession need not be free floating. In essence, professions are organized occupational groups with a (somewhat) accepted claim to legal and/or social status. Exactly which groups are granted this status, and what this status entails, will vary. To understand who is a "professional" and who is not in any given context, then, requires empirical research. Once this research is done, we may be in a position to develop a more accurate, empirically based sociological concept of profession.

This study seeks to expand our understanding of "professions" through an analysis of professional regulation in five Canadian provinces. What were the occupations that were deemed "professions" by provincial governments and granted special legal rights and privileges? What was nature of those privileges? Historically, in Canada, professions were granted legal recognition and privileges before they achieved a high level of social status, and some high-status occupations are not regulated (Adams 2000; Bouchard 1996; Gidney and Millar 1994). Thus, this approach will not reveal every occupation socially defined as a profession in the past. Nevertheless, it will enable us to identify occupational groups regulated by the state, and explore how regulated professions are distinct from other occupational groups in society. Through such research we can obtain a more accurate picture of who historically was regarded as "professional" by contemporaries, and also lay an empirical foundation that can inform future research on professions in Canada.


This study focused on legislation regulating professions and occupations passed in five Canadian provinces from the time of Confederation (1867) until 1961. The five provinces were selected for their diversity and geographical dispersion across the country: Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia (BC). I selected the end date of 1961 because it was a census year that predated the extensive federal and provincial reviews of professional regulation that began in the mid-1960s and resulted in legislative change soon after. (1) I reviewed published collections of the acts passed annually by the legislatures in each province to identify legislation regulating occupations and professions. Because the focus was on professions, the goal of the initial review of legislation was to identify regulated professional groups. This necessitated a close review of legislation regulating occupations to discern whether "professional" regulation could be distinguished from occupational regulation more generally. It became clear that occupations commonly viewed as professions, like medicine and law, were regulated differently than other occupations, like private detectives. Moreover, a review of the legislation revealed many more occupations regulated in a manner similar to medicine and law than the sociological literature on professions would suggest.

Included in the study were both the principal acts recognizing and regulating a profession, and the many acts amending that legislation, so that changes in regulation over time could be documented. Overall, approximately 1,020 pieces of legislation, regulating 36 distinct professions in at least one of the provinces, were identified and analyzed. An additional 152 acts regulating other occupations were also reviewed. I explored what occupations were regulated, how they were regulated, and whether regulation changed over time. Analysis was limited to those professions and occupations that were the subject of individual pieces of legislation. For instance, osteopathy was regulated as a separate profession in Saskatchewan (in some eras), but under the medical act in Nova Scotia and BC, and under the Drugless Practitioners Act in Ontario. Thus, only in Saskatchewan is osteopathy listed as a separate regulated profession (the regulated groups are "drugless practitioners" in Ontario and "medicine" in Nova Scotia and BC).

Once identified, the regulatory legislation was examined to determine the nature of the regulation. Was there a regulatory body established or recognized by the act? Was the body granted the right to pass by-laws and regulate itself, and/or practice in a field more broadly? Was entry to practice restricted? What were the criteria for entry to practice? Were there limitations placed on who could practice? Did the act establish penalties for those who practiced counter to the act? I considered these and many other dimensions common to such regulatory legislation to explore differences among regulated occupational and professional groups.

This present paper addresses two principal research questions:

(1) What professions were regulated historically, and when were they regulated?

(2) What factors appear to distinguish professional regulation from the regulation of other occupations?

I then consider whether a look at regulation provides a useful way of distinguishing professions and occupations in the decades before 1961.


A review of the legislation regulating occupational groups in all five provinces revealed clear differences between professional and other occupational regulation. Although there are many lines across which regulated groups historically differed in specific provinces and time periods, only two characteristics were universal across "professions": (1) the establishment of a regulatory body, at least partially composed of practitioners, to govern the profession; and (2) the limitation of the right to practice or to utilize a restricted title to those with a demonstrated level of competence. Legislation regulating professions from law to optometry, and land surveying to agrology, established or recognized a body of practitioners, which was granted at least some regulatory powers, and limited entry to practice (or access to a title or credential) to those who could pass ah examination or provide proof of training. In contrast, legislation regulating other groups including private detectives, collection agents, and real estate agents, to name but a few, established a system of licensing, without creating a separate regulatory body and/or competency requirements.

While professional legislation typically had other characteristics--like disciplinary provisions, tines for illegal practice, protection of a specified scope of practice, detailed education requirements, and rules restricting practice to those who could provide proof of good moral character--these were not present in every instance. Typically legislation regulating professions also explicitly utilized the term "profession." Legislation regulating other occupations never did, but rather referred to the regulated group as an occupation or trade. While there were always variations among regulated professional groups in terms of the scope of privileges and powers granted, the line between

regulated professional groups and regulated occupations before 1961 was delineated by the presence of a regulatory body (of practitioners), and the restriction of entry to practice on the basis of proof of competence.

Occupational regulation differed. The regulation of workers, such as private detectives in Ontario and Saskatchewan (1909 and 1913), undertakers in Saskatchewan (1914), and early real estate agents in BC (1920), granted no privileges beyond the right to practice. With the passing of the regulatory acts, all who wanted to work in these fields had to report to a government agency and obtain a license. Generally, all who wanted to practice could do so, as long as they took the trouble to obtain a license; there were rarely any specified entry requirements. This regulation enabled state actors to oversee work in these fields, bur little active regulation beyond the issuing of licenses is evident.

In contrast, under professional regulation, the state delegated authority to a regulatory board of practitioners who were given the right to govern practice (subject to certain limitations). Professional bodies established under legislation were empowered to pass by-laws to regulate their activities and the practitioners they governed. Their areas of governance typically included entry to practice, education and examinations, registration, practitioner conduct and discipline, occasionally professional fees, and other aspects of service provision. These professional bodies, then, had delimited legislative powers: their by-laws had the force of law, and affected practitioners and consumers alike. The privilege of self-regulation was granted to a relatively small number of groups who restricted access to such authority and to practice to a selected group of individuals who had distinguished themselves through their training, education, and/or examinations, as well as, generally, though their moral character. Historically in Canada, professions were special status groups demarcated by their training and education in a specific field, and their moral rectitude.

The finding that professions have historically been regulated differently than other kinds of jobs--and that they are distinguished by their autonomy, authority, and expertise--blends easily with the existing literature on the sociology of professions (e.g., Freidson 2001; Macdonald 1995). More surprising is that utilizing these criteria, one can distinguish 36 professional groups regulated in the provinces of Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and BC before 1961. This finding is striking given that attempts to define professions in the past have been based predominantly on a handful of professions, and especially medicine and law. These 36 professions are listed in Table 1, along with the date upon which they were first regulated in each province (a list of regulated occupations is provided in Table 2).

In Table 1, the oldest professions, most of which were regulated in all five provinces, are listed first. These professions are among the most prominent, recognized, and studied. They are typically the product of the years between Confederation and the early 1920s, although some, like medicine, law, and in Quebec the notarial profession, were regulated before Confederation. With some notable exceptions (like shorthand reporting and chartered accountancy) professions in this group have been granted many rights and privileges. Most are closed, self-regulating professions with regulatory boards, composed of elected practitioners, that can pass by-laws to regulate entry to practice, as well as their own functioning and at rimes, aspects of practice and training more generally. These professions tended to have high entry requirements, necessitating extensive training and education.

Next, in Table 1, health professions regulated between the 1920s and early 1960s are listed. These health professions were often regulated quite differently across the provinces, and in some not regulated at all. Most were regulated in a manner similar to earlier professions, although they tended to have less regulatory authority, and a more delimited scope of practice (Adams 2009). Some groups, like drugless practitioners in Ontario, were more closely controlled by the state.

Other professions regulated before the early 1960s include various accounting professions, and a number of other organized occupational groups, such as music teachers, agrologists, forestry professionals, and so on. Although these groups are less often recognized as professions socially, or in the sociological literature, all were regulated similar to the earlier regulated professions, and were typically referred to as "professions" in regulatory legislation. Some of these groups were fully self-regulating while others held a restricted title only. Toward the bottom of Table 1 are three regulated professions I have labeled "professional technicians": these are regulated professions that performed largely technical tasks in support of other regulated professions, and were generally subordinate to them. (2)

Although all of the professions listed in Table 1 were regulated differently from other regulated occupations (see Table 2), the manner in which they were regulated, the powers they were granted, and the timing of their regulation differed in significant ways. The following section explores these differences, emphasizing varying modes of regulation. While, professional regulation can be distinguished from other types of occupational regulation, it is quite variable across profession and era.


In Canadian legislation, three general modes of professional regulation can be identified. First is self-regulation or self-governance: here, practice is closed (no-one but the registered can legally practice) and a regulatory body of practitioners is given the right to regulate aspects of professional practice. The most prominent and recognizable professions like medicine and law are self-regulating. Second is restricted title regulation. Practice of these professions is technically not closed--anyone can practice in the field--but only those who are registered can claim a restricted title that denotes competence and training (such as "chartered accountant" or, in the early twentieth century, "registered nurse"). Here, the recognized regulatory body (composed of practitioners) can regulate its members and access to the restricted title (and hence is somewhat self-governing), but it has no authority to regulate practitioners in the field more broadly. The final type of regulation that characterizes some professional groups is state regulation. In this mode, the government appoints a board (whose members may or may not be practitioners) to examine candidates for entrance into the field, and sometimes, to regulate more generally. This type of regulation more closely resembles nonprofessional regulation, except that a regulatory body and competency requirements are established. In Canada historically, this type of regulation has often been followed by the establishment of a self-regulating profession, as in medicine in the mid-nineteenth century, land surveying in the late-nineteenth century, and chiropractic in the mid-twentieth century in Ontario.

Table 3 provides a list of selected professions and occupations regulated as of 1961, sorted by their typical mode of regulation, and lists some of the rights and privileges granted to them. (3) While a profession's rights and privileges sometimes varied across province, in this table, I present the regulatory pattern most common in the provinces in which it was regulated. In the table, self-regulating professions are listed first; restricted title professions are listed second, and those regulated in different ways across the provinces are listed third. At the bottom of the table, selected regulated occupations are listed. There was no profession in 1961 that was state regulated in every province. Alternative health professions were the most variably regulated: for instance, some provinces granted chiropractic and naturopathy self-regulation (Saskatchewan, BC), while in other provinces they were more state directed (Ontario); in some provinces they were not regulated at all during this era (Quebec and Nova Scotia). Also regulated differently in the years before 1961 were professional foresters, architects, nurses, and agrologists (agronomists in Quebec) who were self-regulating professionals in some provinces, but enjoyed only a restricted title in others.

Table 3 also lists selected regulatory characteristics: the presence of an elected regulatory board composed of practitioners; whether that board could regulate itself, the profession and practice more generally; whether it could determine entry to practice; and whether the regulatory board was empowered to discipline practitioners for violating professional ethics. Table 3 also notes whether legislation regulated an occupation's relationships with other regulated groups, and whether it established tines for illegal practice.

From this table it should be evident that self-regulating professions historically had more authority and autonomy than restricted title professions and regulated occupations. (4) They were more often able to set entry requirements, govern themselves, regulate practice, and discipline practitioners. Not surprisingly the powers of the variably regulated were quite variable, with some, in some locations, having more power than others. Restricted title professions had boards that governed professional organizations and their members, and typically had limited disciplinary powers (for instance, the right to rescind registration in certain delimited instances). Regulated occupations did not typically have such powers. Rarely was there a regulatory body established. Rather regulation was usually in the hands of a government agency or agent: for instance, private detectives were licensed by the Office of the Superintendent in BC (1930) and by the Provincial Treasurer in Ontario (1909). In a similar vein, in Nova Scotia insurance agents had to obtain a license from the provincial secretary, while in BC they obtained a license from the Superintendent of Insurance. Practitioners had no regulatory authority.

Overall, legislation regulating professions before 1961 delineated practice rights and privileges and specified criteria and processes for entry to practice. The summary analysis presented in Table 3 shows that such legislation also served two other purposes. First, it granted status to professional groups--the legislation recognized them as a special category of workers and citizens, delegated limited governance rights to professional organizations, and granted practice privileges; additional privileges not listed in Table 3 were also common, such as limitations on malpractice suits and jury duty exemptions. Clearly professions had a special status in society; their special legal status was often, but not always, accompanied by considerable social and cultural status. Occupational groups--whether regulated or not--did not have status of this kind.

Second, legislation regulating professions served to structure professions' and professionals' relationships with the public, the state, and other occupational groups. In delegating limited governance authority to professional bodies, states established a relationship with professional groups. Governments delegated authority for the governance and supervision of specific social areas--for instance, the surveying of provincial land (land surveyors), the sale of dangerous poisons and chemicals (pharmacists), the design and construction of public works and public buildings (engineers and architects)--to professions. Professional legislation defined and structured the relationship between professions and the state, and frequently outlined the responsibility of the former to the latter, and society more generally. Further, legislation regulating professions is typically passed with the justification that doing so is in the best interests of the public (Haug 1980; Law and Kim 2005). Professional legislation is said to be intended to protect the public through ensuring that practitioners in important social areas are qualified, competent, and ethical; or to ensure that members of the public can make informed decisions when selecting service providers (because many experts have specific credentials and titles to signify their expertise) (Law and Kim 2005). As Table 3 indicates professional bodies were charged with disciplining practitioners who did not behave in an ethical manner, and who were charged with dereliction of duty. Although some have questioned whether professional groups have done this effectively (Allsop 2006), the fact remains that this is a responsibility they have been charged with through regulatory legislation. Professional regulation aims at structuring relations between professions and the public, and ensuring the protection of the public, to a much greater extent than occupational regulation.

In addition, professional regulation, especially since the mid-twentieth century, aimed to shape professions' relationships with other professional and occupational groups (Adams 2009). From around the 1920s, legislation more carefully delineated scopes of practices, allowed for specific situations where different professionals did similar kinds of work, and aimed to protect professional groups from the encroachment or claims of others. This was particularly the case for professions that were closed and self-regulating, as illustrated in Table 3. For instance, legislation regulating optometry defined specifically what optometrists were allowed to do, allowed medical doctors to do similar work, and contained allowances for wholesalers and others who might sell nonprescription glasses. Such carefully delineated scopes of practice were particularly common in legislation regulating health care professions, but could also be found in legislation regulating occupations, such as land surveying, architecture, and engineering.

Overall, professional regulation grants professions (legal) status, and shapes their relationships with the state, the public, and other professional groups. Occupational legislation typically does neither.


The review of legislation regulating professions in Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and BC identified 36 professional groups. Regulated professions were distinguished from regulated occupations through the recognition of a regulatory board or body of practitioners, and through the practice of restricting membership to those who could demonstrate training in the field. Although the degree of autonomy and authority granted to regulated professions was variable, historically professions were granted many more regulatory privileges, and more work-related rights and protections than other occupational groups. A closer look at professional legislation revealed additional differences between professional and occupational regulation. The legislation regulating professions not only conferred status, it also structured relationships with the state (through delegation of governance responsibilities and the granting of rights and responsibilities), relations with the public (determining who can provide services, under what conditions, when and where), and relations with other professional groups (through detailing scopes of practice). Legislation regulating occupations typically governed entry to practice, but did not shape relations or confer status in this manner.

The present study was driven by methodological and conceptual problems in the field. Without a clear definition of what precisely professions are, how can one identify and analyze them? My approach was to take Freidson's (1983) advice and consider what occupations were regarded as "professions" in a specific social-historical context. Professions are, ultimately, status groups, and if one examines which occupations have status in certain locations and at certain points in time, one should be able to identify professions. Although both legal and social status are important to the making of professions, I chose, for simplicity's sake, to focus on legal status and consider which groups have been legally regulated as "professions" in the past. This is not a perfect approach: not every regulated profession has a significant amount of social status--for instance, few Canadians would even know what a "shorthand reporter" or "agrologist" was, let alone hold them in high esteem. At the same time, many well-respected occupations, such as scientists, university professors, and managers, are not regulated. Nevertheless, the approach undertaken here did allow me to identify groups of occupations that were granted a similar level of legal status and regulated in similar ways. (5)

Developing a more accurate empirical picture of what professions were historically is important for two reasons. First, it provides us with a benchmark from which we can more accurately explore processes of change. Without a clear picture of what professions were in the past, we can not really examine how they are changing in the present. Second, it helps us develop a more accurate, empirically grounded understanding of professions. Earlier definitions have typically been based on a limited number of well-studied professions--especially medicine--in specific time periods, and have attempted to generalize beyond these parameters. However, it is unlikely that there is one set of traits that defines a profession across time and place. Even in this present study differences in who was a regulated professional and who was not are evident across era and province. Nevertheless, researchers would benefit from having a working definition of profession, and/or a clearer strategy for identifying professions and demarcating them from other occupations.

The solution, as indicated by Freidson (1983) and developed here, may not be a strict definition of what a profession is, but rather a consideration of how professions are defined and structured in specific social-historical contexts. Professions in Canada from Confederation to the early 1960s were distinguished by their status, and through the ways in which relations with the state, the public, and other professions were structured. I believe that these factors have also been important in demarcating professions in Canada since the mid-1960s, although the nature of professions appears to have changed slightly over time. Any useful sociological conceptualization of "profession" should take the social meaning attached to the term into account, and moreover, should be applicable to a wide array of cases. Further, as Sciulli (2005, 2007) recommends, a good concept of "profession" will focus more on structural qualities than specific characteristics as the latter are too changeable. It may be useful then to regard professions as organized occupations with status whose relations with the state, the public, and other professional groups are structured and regulated. Such an approach provides a means of identifying professions, and analyzing their characteristics, without clearly defining them, and it allows for variation across time, place, and field.

Such an approach can both incorporate and move beyond previous sociological definitions. While defining professions in terms of their "traits" has often been convenient, it is an imperfect approach, as many have argued, because these lists are often incomplete, too variable, and they leave too much unexplained (Johnson 1972; Roth 1974). Acknowledging the presence of certain traits in specific historical contexts is still useful, but it does not appear to be the presence of a specific set of traits that defines a profession; rather, I have argued, organization, status, and the structuring of social relations appear to be key. An emphasis on status and structured relations further enables researchers to incorporate the consideration of power, so emphasized by many researchers (Freidson 1970; Johnson 1972; Larson 1977). Professional powers are regulated, quite often by the state, and professionals' privileges, and obligations to others are clearly delineated. A focus on the dynamics of these power relations, and how they are structured, enables us to acknowledge variations in levels of power across profession and across time period. A decline in power need not signal the end of professions, because it is the fact that these power relations exist and are structured--rather than the absolute level (or quantity) of power granted--that historically has distinguished professions.

More empirical research is needed to explore professional status--both legal and social status and the interconnections between them--and professional relationships in different times and places, before a more useful sociological conceptualization can be further specified. Nevertheless, I argue that considering professions as organized status groups, and exploring the ways in which their status is acquired, and the ways in which their relationships with the state, the public, and other workers are structured, is an approach that promises to move research forward. It not only facilitates our ability to operationalize and identify professions. It also opens up many avenues for research. For instance, it encourages us to continue to focus on interprofessional relations, as Andrew Abbott (1988) has argued that we should, while embedding these conflicts in a complex web of relations and an ongoing drive for status, social authority, and privilege that seem to drive professional activity and professionalization. At the same time it encourages research on profession-state relations, an area of research that is currently undergoing substantial growth (Doray, Collin, and Aubin-Horth 2004; Evetts 2002; Johnson, Larkin, and Saks 1995; McKendry and Langford 2001). Beyond this, however, it encourages us to explore, more fully, forms of professional organization, professions' relations with the public, and professional rights and privileges. It focuses attention on a broader range of professional groups, and hence, may enhance our understanding of professional activity in new and unknown ways. It also enables us to see professions as dynamic, historically changing entities, and to explore the ways in which professions and professional work change over time. Perhaps most importantly, such an approach returns our focus to issues of status, status-group formation, and status power in society--issues at the core of the establishment and maintenance of professions that have been brushed aside in recent research (Sciulli 2005). Even in our changing society, professions remain status groups with unique privileges, organization and social relations. They appear to fill an important social role that should not be ignored.


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(1.) Although census data were not utilized for this current paper, they were utilized in the project research more broadly. The period following 1961 is deserving of a separate and more detailed analysis as the legislation increasingly reflected provincial governments' efforts to rationalize and standardize professional regulation, and was shaped by other government activity, especially the introduction of Medicare.

(2.) There is not space here to discuss each of the professions individually. Most of these occupations are likely familiar to the reader. Included in this list of professions are groups that may be less familiar, such as the Stenographic/Shorthand Reporters in Ontario, who were originally a body of shorthand court and newspaper reporters. The regulatory body currently represents court reporters and grants members a restricted title (CSR: Chartered Shorthand Reporter). Agrology (agronomy) is the science and study of agriculture. A somewhat more familiar occupation may be osteopathy, which is a health profession that cures through manipulation in a manner not completely unlike chiropractic. Osteopathy has long been a large health profession in the United States, but the number of practicing osteopaths in Canada is currently low.

(3.) Occupations and professions regulated in only one province were removed, with the exception of Quebec notaries.

(4.) Real estate agents in Montreal had been granted a regulatory board and a restricted title in 1881, although the act did not specify entrance requirements, nor did it regulate real estate agents on a provincial level.

(5) There is reason to believe that status, organization, and structured sets of relations are also important for other nonregulated professional groups in Canadian society. Occupations historically regarded as professions, such as the military, the church, and university professors, have some measure of self-regulation, have enjoyed considerable social status, and typically have structured and rule-bound relationships with the members of the public they come into contact with.

Tracey L. Adams, Department of Sociology, Social Sciences Centre, University of Western Ontario, London, ON, Canada N6A 5C2. E-mail:
Table 1
Regulated Professions in Five Canadian Provinces Before 1961

Profession                                 Ontario     Quebec

Early professions
Lawyers                                      1797     Colonial
Medical doctors                              1827       1798
Notaries public                                         1847
Land surveyors                               1849       1849
Dentists                                     1868       1869
Pharmacists                                  1871       1870
Veterinary surgeons                          1885       1902
Chartered accountants                        1882       1880
Architects                                   1890       1890
Optometrists                                 1919       1909
Professional engineers                       1922       1898
Stenographic/shorthand reporters             1891
Newer and alternative health professions
Nurses                                       1922       1920
Drugless practitioners                       1925
Osteopaths                                 (DP act)
Chiropractors                              (DP act)
Chiropodists                                 1944
Physiotherapists                           (DP act)
Dieticians                                   1958       1956
Psychiatric nurses
Nursing assistants
Psychologists                                1960
Accounting professions
Certified public accountants                 1926       1946
General accountants                                     1946
Industrial and cost accountants                         1941
Other licensed accountants                             1912,
Other regulated professions
Agrologists/agronomists                      1960       1942
Music teachers                               1946
Professional foresters                       1957       1921
Professional chemists                                   1926
Interior decorators                                     1948
Insurance brokers                                       1946
Professional technicians
Dental technicians                           1946       1944
Dispensing opticians                         1961       1940
Radiological/X-ray technicians                          1961

                                             Nova      British
Profession                                  Scotia    Columbia

Early professions
Lawyers                                      1811       1863
Medical doctors                              1828       1867
Notaries public                                         1956
Land surveyors                               1910       1891
Dentists                                     1891       1886
Pharmacists                                  1876       1891
Veterinary surgeons                          1913       1901
Chartered accountants                        1913       1905
Architects                                   1932       1920
Optometrists                                 1920       1920
Professional engineers                       1917       1918
Stenographic/shorthand reporters
Newer and alternative health professions
Nurses                                       1917       1918
Drugless practitioners                                  1936
Osteopaths                                 (Med act     (Med
                                            1921)     act 1909)
Chiropractors                                           (Med
Chiropodists                                            1929
Naturopaths                                             1936
Physiotherapists                             1958       1946
Dieticians                                   1958
Psychiatric nurses                                      1951
Nursing assistants                           1954       1951
Accounting professions
Certified public accountants                 1952
General accountants                                     1951
Industrial and cost accountants              1950       1945
Other licensed accountants
Other regulated professions
Agrologists/agronomists                      1953       1947
Music teachers                               1941       1947
Professional foresters                                  1947
Professional chemists
Interior decorators
Insurance brokers
Professional technicians
Dental technicians                           1949       1958
Dispensing opticians
Radiological/X-ray technicians

Profession                                  chewan

Early professions
Lawyers                                      1890
Medical doctors                              1890
Notaries public
Land surveyors                               1909
Dentists                                     1892
Pharmacists                                  1892
Veterinary surgeons                          1895
Chartered accountants                        1908
Architects                                   1911
Optometrists                                 1909
Professional engineers                       1930
Stenographic/shorthand reporters
Newer and alternative health professions
Nurses                                       1922
Drugless practitioners                       1917
Osteopaths                                   1913,
Chiropractors                              (DP act),
Chiropodists                                 1943
Naturopaths                                  1954
Physiotherapists                             1945
Dieticians                                   1958
Psychiatric nurses                           1948
Nursing assistants                         (Nursing
                                           act 1955)
Accounting professions
Certified public accountants                 1953
General accountants
Industrial and cost accountants              1948
Other licensed accountants
Other regulated professions
Agrologists/agronomists                      1946
Music teachers                               1938
Professional foresters
Professional chemists
Interior decorators
Insurance brokers
Professional technicians
Dental technicians                           1960
Dispensing opticians
Radiological/X-ray technicians               1957

Table 2
Selected Occupations Regulated in Five Canadian Provinces

Occupation                      Ontario    Quebec    Scotia

Private detectives                  1909    1915
Embalmers                           1911              1912
Notaries                            1914   Table 1
Steam/stationary engineers     1891/1919              1914
Real estate agents/brokers          1930    1904
Insurance agents/brokers            1947    1946      1919
Bailiffs                            1941    1887
Barbers/hairdressers           1933-1948    1927      1937
Court stenographers            Table 1      1897
Mortgage brokers                    1960
Cullers                           1890s     1950
Scalers                                               1945
Collection agents                           1933
Produce commission merchants
Millers                             1909
Book agents

                               British    Saskat-
Occupation                     Columbia   chewan

Private detectives               1930      1913
Embalmers                                  1930
Notaries                         1927      1906
Steam/stationary engineers       1901
Real estate agents/brokers       1920      1953
Insurance agents/brokers         1922
Barbers/hairdressers             1924
Court stenographers              1888
Mortgage brokers
Collection agents                1930
Undertakers                                1914
Produce commission merchants               1920
Auctioneers                                1912
Book agents                                1930

Table 3
Selected Regulated Occupations and Professions 1961: Privileges and
Modes of Regulation

                                    Elected        Board
                                  practitioner   regulates
                                     board        its own
                                   regulates      members

Self-regulating professions
Lawyers                                X             X
Medical doctors                        X             X
Notaries public                        X             X
Land surveyors                         X             X
Dentists                               X             X
Pharmacists                            X             X
Professional engineers                 X             X
Veterinary surgeons                    X             X
Dental technicians                                   X
Dispensing opticians                   X             X
Restricted title professions
Chartered accountants                  X             X
General accountants                    X             X
Industrial and cost accountants        X             X
Dieticians                             X             X
Music teachers                         X             X
Variably regulated
Architects                             X             X
Nursing                                S             X
Drugless practitioners                               X
Chiropractors                          S             S
Chiropodists                           S             X
Naturopaths                                          X
Physiotherapists                       S             X
Psychiatric nurses                                   S
Professional foresters                 X             X
Agrology                               X             X
Regulated occupations
Private detectives
Steam/stationary engineers
Real estate agents/brokers             S             S
Insurance agents/brokers
Barbers/hairdressers                   S             S
Mortgage brokers

                                      Board              Board
                                    regulates          determines
                                  practice more         entry to
                                     broadly            practice

Self-regulating professions
Lawyers                                 X                  X
Medical doctors                         X                  X
Notaries public                         X                  X
Land surveyors                          X                  X
Dentists                                X                  X
Pharmacists                             X                  X
Professional engineers                  X                  X
Veterinary surgeons
Dental technicians                                         X
Dispensing opticians                    X                  X
Restricted title professions
Chartered accountants                               Board determines
                                                  access to credential
General accountants
Industrial and cost accountants
Music teachers
Variably regulated
Architects                                                 X
Nursing                                                    S
Drugless practitioners                  X                  X
Chiropractors                           X                  X
Chiropodists                            X                  X
Physiotherapists                        X
Psychiatric nurses
Professional foresters                  X                  S
Agrology                                X
Regulated occupations
Private detectives
Embalmers                                                  X
Steam/stationary engineers
Real estate agents/brokers
Insurance agents/brokers
Mortgage brokers

                                      Board        Penalties
                                   disciplines    for illegal
                                  practitioners     practice

Self-regulating professions
Lawyers                                 X              X
Medical doctors                         X              X
Notaries public                         X              X
Land surveyors                          X              X
Dentists                                X              X
Pharmacists                             X              X
Professional engineers                  X              X
Veterinary surgeons                     X              X
Dental technicians                      X              X
Dispensing opticians                    X              X
Restricted title professions
Chartered accountants                   X         Penalty for
                                                  use of title
General accountants                     L
Industrial and cost accountants         L
Dieticians                              L
Music teachers                          L
Variably regulated
Architects                              X              X
Nursing                                 S              X
Drugless practitioners                  X              X
Chiropractors                           X              X
Chiropodists                            X
Naturopaths                             X              S
Physiotherapists                                       X
Psychiatric nurses                                     X
Professional foresters                  L              X
Agrology                                X              X
Regulated occupations
Private detectives
Embalmers                               S              S
Steam/stationary engineers                             S
Real estate agents/brokers                             X
Insurance agents/brokers                               X
Bailiffs                                               X
Barbers/hairdressers                                   X
Mortgage brokers                                       X

                                  with other
                                  workers are

Self-regulating professions
Lawyers                                X
Medical doctors                        X
Notaries public                        X
Land surveyors                         X
Dentists                               X
Pharmacists                            X
Professional engineers                 X
Veterinary surgeons
Dental technicians                     X
Dispensing opticians                   X
Restricted title professions
Chartered accountants
General accountants
Industrial and cost accountants
Dieticians                             X
Music teachers
Variably regulated
Architects                             X
Nursing                                S
Drugless practitioners                 X
Chiropractors                          X
Chiropodists                           X
Naturopaths                            X
Physiotherapists                       X
Psychiatric nurses                     X
Professional foresters
Agrology                               X
Regulated occupations
Private detectives
Steam/stationary engineers
Real estate agents/brokers
Insurance agents/brokers
Mortgage brokers

X, typically characteristic; S, sometimes characteristic;
L, limited powers only.
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Author:Adams, Tracey L.
Publication:Canadian Review of Sociology
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Feb 1, 2010
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