Professor Ruthanne Huising, EM Lyon
Abbott’s ecological analysis of how expert groups compete with each other for jurisdictional control and advantageous settlements, leveraging their unique abstract knowledge, continues to focus our examination of professions. At the same time, expert groups are continuously striking deals within their jurisdictions in relation to new technologies, regulations, and bureaucratic tools. In these deals, expert groups maintain exclusive right to work within a task jurisdiction, but they lose aspects of their autonomy. Most often, we observe professions negotiating deals – drawing on their expertise, practices, relations, and values – with solidified challenges rather than negotiating the emerging challenge. Given this, it is unclear how identified resources and strategies protect professional autonomy at earlier stages.
In this paper, I examine how professions may more or less defend their autonomy, within their jurisdiction, in relation to institution-level challenges I draw on a four-year field-level ethnography of a the development a national regulatory framework – regulations, policies, and programs – to govern the use of pathogens, viruses, and toxins in laboratories. I analyse how scientists influenced some aspects of the framework, mobilising their detailed knowledge of the materials, daily scientific practice, and organisational constraints, and compare this with their relative failure to negotiate other aspects of the framework.
This analysis shows that conjecture about scientists’ motives and morality – produced by an emerging transnational biosecurity dialogue – supplants scientists’ knowledge of their community. Overall, the findings demonstrate how identified resources that protect jurisdictional boundaries and preserve autonomy in organisations may be insufficient to reshape institution-level challenges. More generally, these findings raise questions about how emerging expert groups may come to govern established expert groups.
Professor Ruthanne Huising is an ethnographer of work and organisations. She studies how organisations respond to external pressures to change and the implications of these changes for professional control and expertise. Across her various projects she has observed how organisations accommodate regulatory change (Human Pathogens and Toxins Act), auditing fads (Environmental Management Systems), and efficiency efforts (Ontario perioperative coaching program) and the complex responses of scientists, biosafety officers, health physicists, surgeons, nurses and administrators.