A. In its more general application the term denotes occupations which demand a highly specialized knowledge and skill acquired at least in part by courses of a more or less theoretical nature and not by practice alone, tested by some form of examination either at a university or some other authorized institution, and conveying to the persons who possess thern considerable authority in relation to 'clients'.

Such authority is carefully maintained and often deliberately heightened by guildlike associations of the practitioners (professiona associations) which lay down rules of entry, training, and behaviour in relation to the public (professional ethics), see to it that the standard of knowledge and skill of the practitioners is not lowered, defend the level of their professional remuneration, try to prevent competing groups from encroaching upon the boundaries of their professional activities, and watch over thereservation of their professional status.

At present the term usually denotes certain occupations whose members give service rather than engage in the production and distribution of goods: those occupations are normally excluded whose members sell goods over the counter (or openly) for profit, or do manual work, except in cases, such as surgeons, pharmacists, or some groups of engineers, in which selling or manual work demand forms of knowledge and skill which can only be acquired by means of a scientific training.


B. It is important, historically, to distinguish narrower and wider usages as follows :

1. In the narrower and older sense the term refers to the professions of divinity, law and medicine, the first occupations that gave to people not living on unearned income a chance to make a living which did not involve trade or manual work. It has been extended to include the army and the naval profession.

2. In the wider and more recent sense it refers to all people with an academic training and degree or its equivalent, such as scientists, teachers, sociologists, civil servants, or architects.

3. In accordance with a strong trend in the development of industrial societies the meaning of the term has been still further extended to include occupations that require some scientific training and knowledge, though not necessarily of university standard, and a diploma or certificate, usually based on examinations, for the exercise of their specific occupational skills (minor profession, professional auxiliaries).


N. Elias




Gould, Julius, & William L. Kolb (ed.): A Dictionary of the Social Sciences. Compiled under the auspices of The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, New York 1964: The Free Press, p. 542