Aspiring librarian and historian. Personal webpage.

Curriculum Vitae


Contact me

Every Appearance of Common Sense?: Applying Bourdieu’s “Sociological Gaze” to the Profession of Librarianship

01 May 2017

This is a working paper. Comments welcome.


In late 2016, Keith Fiels, the Executive Director of the American Library Association (ALA), announced his retirement. Subsequently, the ALA Board of Directors began a measured process of selecting Fiels’s replacement. Part of this process involved a reassessment of the requirements for the position of the Executive Director, including things like education, relevant experience, and required accreditations. On 16 December 2016, Peter Hepburn, on behalf of the ALA Executive, released to the public a draft of a resolution that was the result of the Board of Directors reflection. The resolution read as follows:

Be it Resolved, that the American Library Association (ALA), on behalf of its members Amend the educational qualification for the ALA Executive Director to make an ALA- accredited Master’s Degree a strongly preferred but not required educational qualification (ALA Draft Resolution, 2016).

The rationale behind this resolution is clarified in an appended document that describes the advantages and disadvantages of such a change. For example, with regard to the question of the values of the profession and knowledge of library environments, the Board writes, “There are a variety of other avenues for acquiring and demonstrating a deep understanding of the values of the profession and of library environments,” and that the “[MLIS degree] content does not necessarily provide the educational expertise needed to manage and lead an organization the size and complexity of ALA; therefore, we need a broader pool of individuals who may or may not have the ALA-accredited graduate degree or one who might not have the degree but might have significant experience within ALA.” Elsewhere, the document notes that “We need to attract a large pool of applicants who are interested in an executive position and we need to ensure that these applicants – no matter their education.” Overall, these justifications are reflective of larger organizational changes within the ALA, and associations more broadly.

Since its publication in mid-December, this thread has received roughly 10,000 unique views and dozens of individual responses from interested parties. Unsurprisingly, a majority of respondents are opposed to the resolution. Several comments take exception with what is described as “worrisome corporatizing trends.” For instance, Alfred Kagan warns that “Opening up a loophole makes it possible to end up with a person with a corporate background, who will want to run the association even more like a corporation.” Similarly, Madeleine Charney, a librarian at UMass Amherst, writes, “How can we lose such faith in ourselves as a profession? Keeping the requirement is imperative for maintaining integrity, holding to our values, and showing the next generation of librarians that there are high places for them to strive toward.”

While these critiques are valuable in their own right, I want to concentrate on a specific rhetorical strategy that is used by many of these commentators. Specifically, I’d like to focus on the “defense of the profession” argument. For example, Roxanna Palmer writes, Are we not constantly reminding the public every year why we still need librarians? If our own leadership does not see the value, how can we expect it for others? Likewise, Mark Hudson states, “We are seeing a widespread de-professionalization of library services nationwide as boards and administrators with a bottom-line mentality increasingly hire non-MLS staff to do work that has traditionally been done by professional librarians. In the face of this de-professionalization, ALA should be standing up for our values and not undermining them further by hiring a non-librarian to lead our professional association.” Finally, Matthew Ciszek, Head Librarian at Lartz Memorial Library at Penn State Shenango, situates the ALA’s decision in reference to other professional associations: “EDs and CEOs of professional organizations are almost always drawn from the ranks of the profession.” He then continues to list examples: “ED of the American Medical Association? A medical doctor. CEO of the American Marketing Association? Someone with marketing background. Head of the American Bar Association? A lawyer.” His final argument is reflective of a profound belief in the MLS curriculum:

“The ED of the ALA must be a librarian… [and must] deeply understand librarians and librarianship. This deep understanding is not something that can be taught in a weekend ‘short course’ or something that can be picked up ‘on the job’ once the ED is hired.”

This paper utilizes this resolution and the arguments launched for and against as a departure point to analyze the profession of librarianship from a perspective informed by Pierre Bourdieu’s theories. Drawing on scholarship from sociology, organizational studies, and LIS, I’ll suggest that the concept of a profession (for Bourdieu, une occupation) is a form of symbolic capital working within multiple fields of power. Analyzing librarianship with this framework enables us to identify the internal and external battles being waged over control of symbolic capital within fields of power, and ask why we value “the profession” to such a degree. Within the profession, professionals, para-professionals, and managers are constantly attempting to shore up or acquire additional symbolic capital. Externally, professions are struggling to maintain their symbolic capital in relation to each other; some professions, like medicine and law, have been more adept at consecrating cultural, social and economic capital into symbolic capital. Ultimately, this approach makes clear that the concept of “a profession” is neither absolute nor neutral; it is a constructed, deeply historical socio-cultural classification system that has been embedded into our collective unconscious. Ultimately, bolstering support behind the notion of a “profession” might not be the most prudent course of action for librarians going forward; in fact, I’ll suggest that uncritically supporting the “profession” goes against the philosophical tenets that librarians are purported to uphold.

Bourdieu and the “Profession” in LIS Research

Despite the wide-ranging applicability of his theories, LIS scholars interested in critical theory have yet to embrace Bourdieu as they have other critical theorists, such as Paulo Freire and Henry Giroux. In the past decade, some attempts have been made to apply Bourdieu’s concepts of capital, habitus, and fields of production and power in LIS contexts. France Bouthillier, for example, examines a small public library system in Montreal, Canada, and uses Bourdieu’s theory of habitus to describe what influences librarians and library-techs to create “symbolic resources” for their patrons (Bouthillier, 2001). Alternatively, John Budd and Lynn Connaway apply a Bourdieusian discourse analysis to examine the relationship between content and power in LIS education. They conclude that certain discourses carry symbolic weight, which are “designed to mobilize, either by affirmation or by silence, a group to accept the claims that are made” (Budd and Connaway, 1998, p. 151). Blaise Cronin and Debra Shaw apply the concept of symbolic capital in their analysis of citations as a measure of research quality and impact. They argue that in scholarly communities, increased citations translate into an ‘objective’ indicator of symbolic power (Cronin and Shaw, 2002). Most recently, Emily Knox argues that the underlying philosophy of librarianship — one that supports intellectual freedom, among other values — increases the symbolic capital of librarians, enabling them to continue upholding intellectual freedom principles (Knox, 2014).

In contrast, several scholars have looked at how librarians construct their professional identities. In Technology and Professional Identity of Librarians: The Making of a Cybrarian, Deborah Hicks briefly tracks the wide range in debate within librarianship (Hicks, 2014). In the 60s and 70s, practicing librarians were focused on bolstering the status of the profession by referencing trait theory. Trait theory posits that an occupation must meet certain criteria to qualify as a profession. In 1938, A. F. Kuhlman argued in “Librarianship as a Profession” that librarianship meets the six requisite criteria: intellectual operation; a learned nature; practical; highly specialized education discipline; common interests through an association; and, an emphasis on public service (Kuhlman, 1938, p. 73). In 1968 Bayless and Wasseman argued that the professional capacity of librarianship was endangered by ineffectual LIS education (In Hicks, 1968). A decade later, Bayless argued that the “career-ladder” programs being run by some libraries, a system by which non-professionals could be hired for librarian-level positions based on experience, endangered the professional status of librarianship (Bayless, 1977, p. 1716). According to Hicks, Bayless’ argument was prompted by severe unemployment and underemployment for librarians. The following comment is reflective of the animosity harbored by some towards paraprofessionals: “If a person has… a good educational background, there is no excuse for not making an effort to go one or two more years to get an MLS, and a refusal to do so shows a lack of commitment to the profession” (Bayless, 1977, p. 1716.) More recently, Lonergan argued that librarians do not meet the requirements of a profession because an LIS education is too short, it does not require license examinations, and codes of ethics are not legally binding or strictly enforced (Lonergan, 2009, p. 121).

In contrast, there are authors that have argued against the professionalizing mission altogether. In 1981, Leigh Estabrooks argued that professionalization had limited the earning potential of librarians by distancing them from labour unions (Estabrooks, 1981, p. 125-127). Furthermore, she argued that professionalization created a hierarchy within librarianship that is adversely affecting relationships between librarians in management roles and those on the front line. Finally, in Librarianship: The Erosion of a Woman’s Profession, Roma Harris presented a similar critique of professionalism. According to Harris, professionalization is a masculine project that is displacing the feminine nature (i.e, service ethic) of librarianship. As Harris notes, the “pervasive anxiety about image and identity” faced by librarians has engendered an urge to “adopt a more professional manner” on one hand, and to “mimic the higher status male professions” on the other (Harris, 1992, p. 1). This act of mimicking results in a turn away from reference and instruction, to technology, management, and information systems skills. Ultimately, Harris contends that this pursuit lies in the “commonly held, but seldom expressed view, that female occupations are somehow less than other, usually male, types of work” (p. 4- 5). Bourdieu’s theories, including forms of capital, habitus, illusio, doxa, and fields, are not referenced at all by the aforementioned authors.

Bourdieu’s “Social Practice” and the “Profession”

What is a profession, and what is a professional? Two approaches to professionalism are most common: the functionalist approach, and the power-centered approach. The functionalist approach, sometimes referred to as the Western approach, posits that professions are necessary elements of socio-economic ecosystems (Noordengraaf and Schinkel, 2011, p. 101). In short, professionals are highly specialized experts by means of intellectual and technical training that supply a valued service to others. The barrier to entry is high, either by means of study or accreditation, because of the assumed benefit of these skills to society. Professions evolved from less specialized occupations as society grew more complex and the body of relevant knowledge grew larger. Over time, it became unacceptable for a medic to perform surgery, or for clergymen to double as judges. However, this understanding of professionalism has been critiqued by some for being artificially functionalist. This line of critique posits that professionals have worked to shield off encroachment onto their domain by erecting artificial barriers; such as, winning support from universities and colleges, generating marketable services, and resisting attempts by other workers to form a jurisdiction within the “ecology of professions.” For these critics, being a “professional” is not a functionalist necessity; it is a power-centered one. The power-centered approach, developed in the field of occupational sociology, sees professionalization as an attempt at controlling power in post-industrial, service-oriented societies (Schinkel and Noordegraaf, 2011).

Seen in this light, the increasingly high-barrier of entry, as well as the pseudo- occupational caste system that exists in many organizations are elements of this struggle for control and legitimacy. Bourdieu’s theories help us to advance this framework by enabling us to question why certain groups control others, how power is manifested, appropriated and exploited, and why shifts in power happen. Bourdieu did not spill much ink on the specific concept of a profession. However, Bourdieu’s critique of professions and professionalization is one an element of a larger project; that is, to instigate an “epistemological rupture.” In addition to promoting a break from concepts that we have come to benignly accept, Bourdieu’s “epistemological rupture” would have break from the positivist tradition completely. As Bourdieu writes,

the task is to produce, if not а ‘new person,’ then at least а ‘new gaze,’ а sociological eye. And this cannot be done without а genuine conversion, а metanoia, а mental revolution, а transformation of one’s whole vision of the social world. What is called ‘epistemological rupture,’ that is, the bracketing of ordinary preconstructions and of the principles ordinarily at work in the elaboration of these constructions, often presupposes а rupture with modes of thinking, concepts, and methods that have every appearance of common sense, of ordinary sense, and of good scientific sense (everything that the dominant positivist tradition honors and hallows) going for them (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992, p. 251).

Bourdieu’s main critique of the concept of a profession, in short, is that it involves an uncritical acceptance of a concept laden with distinctive profit and symbolic value to a specific social space. “The notion of profession is all the more dangerous,” argues Bourdieu in An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology, “because it has, as always in such cases, all appearances of neutrality in its favour.” He continues:

Profession is a folk concept that has been uncritically smuggled into scientific language and which imports into it a whole social unconscious. It is the social product of historical work of construction of a group of representation of groups that has surreptitiously slipped into the science of this group (p. 242).

The lynchpin of Bourdieu’s critique is that the concept of a “profession” paves over the nuances of individual experiences and deliberate acts of exclusion. According to Bourdieu, as both a mental category and social category, a profession is “socially produced only be superseding or obliterating all kinds of economic, social, and ethnic differences and contradictions which make the ‘profession’ a space of competition or struggle” (p. 243). The symbolic title of a lawyer, doctor, nurse, or librarian does not fully represent the tacit and explicit acts of prohibition and sequestration that are embedded within a profession and in the process of professionalization. After all, not everyone can afford to invest economic, cultural, and social capital necessary to enter it. To rectify this situation, Bourdieu suggests that we abandon our notion of a unified “profession” (“A librarian is x, y, z”), as defined by “theoreticians and methodologists,” and adopt the concept of a “field” instead. Bourdieu’s notion of a “field”, a designated social space with specific practices, reflects both structure (being positioned) and individual agency (Colley and Guéry, 2015, p. 117). An associated concept, habitus, refers to one’s socially structuring and structured practices within a field. As Noordengraf and Shinkel suggest, “[habitus], a set of dispositions that influences how he or she perceives, thinks and acts… [is an] embodiment of capital [and] more than subjective; it is influenced by objective social structures, not only within a (professional) field but also in society, such as class, family and (earlier) education” (2011, p. 104). A third concept, illusio, works to bind these two concepts. Simply put, illusio (or interest), refers to one’s “stake in the game.” Taken together, Bourdieu’s theory of practice depicts social groups as attempting to advance their position in society through securing and controlling varying forms of capital: economic, social, cultural and, ultimately, symbolic capital.

According to Colley and Guéry, these three concepts underpin Bourdieu’s critical perspective and enable us to “illuminate the ways in which particular social groups engage with practice, and their differentiated trajectories within fields that, under capitalism, are inherently competitive and unequal” (Colley and Guéry, 2015, p. 117). It is worth quoting Bourdieu verbatim here to demonstrate his how he differentiates the two concepts:

How do you draw a sample in a field? If, in an inquiry into the French intellectual field of the 1950s you leave out Jean-Paul Sartre, or Princeton University in a study of American academia, your field is destroyed, insofar as these personas or institutions alone mark a crucial position. There are positions in a field that admit only one occupant but command the whole structure. With a random or representative sample of artists or intellectuals conceived as ‘a profession’, however, no problem (p. 243).

Bourdieu’s example illustrates the homogenizing process and product inherent in any professionalizing project. By uncritically accepting “professions” at face value we overlook the struggles of individuals attempting to enter the profession, and those bitterly working to exclude others out of it. For as Bourdieu notes, “The very notion of a writer, and lawyer, doctor, or sociologist, despite all efforts at codification and homogenization through certification, is at stake in the field of their profession: The struggle over legitimate definition, whose stake is the boundary, the frontiers, the right of admission, is a universal property of fields” (p. 245). The concept of a field, according to Bourdieu, brings these sites of contention into the foreground.

What would an analysis of librarianship informed by Bourdieu’s theories produce? Applying Bourdieu’s theories provides us with a critical perspective with which to analyze how professions operate in our social worlds. Moreover, Bourdieu’s theories equip us with a vocabulary which allows us compare and contrast professional and non-professional fields. Therefore, the product of a Bourdieusian analysis of librarianship professionalization would,first, acknowledge that librarians are in a constant struggle for symbolic capital and legitimacy in internal and external fields of power, and second, identify how and at what cost this symbolic value is acquired. Adopting this “sociological eye” understands the professionalization project as an attempt by librarians to reinforce its symbolic authority over a field of knowledge organization. This field is not rooted in one particular location; it is visible in a variety of places, public or otherwise. As Schinkel and Noordengraaf argue, for a professional title to function as symbolic capital, “its access needs to be restricted on the basis of a submission of occupational fields lacking the symbolic status of ‘profession’” (2011, p. 87). This act of submission by para- professionals and casual workers thereby recognizes and reinforces the legitimacy of professionalism as symbolic capital. Given that symbolic capital is an increasingly scarce resource, the realization of a utopic vision in which everyone has access to the profession would bring an end the symbolic value of professionalism. This might be a price too dear to pay.

Applying Reflexive Sociology to Librarianship

For the remainder of this essay I turn our attention back to the responses launched for and against the ALA resolution to determine how individual practices reflect Bourdieu’s concept of a field. In particular, I want to concentrate on two points of contention: internal conflicts within a single field (field-specific content) and external conflicts within a larger field of power. On the internal level, I mean the struggle for symbolic capital between non-professionals, librarians, and managers and the symbolic violence that that struggle produces. Externally, I mean struggle for legitimacy between fields within a larger field of power.

“If the MLS is unnecessary as an indicator of dedication to the profession and its values and work,” writes Colleen Harris-Keith, CSU Channel Islands Information Literacy Coordinator, “then why don’t we just all agree that you can have whatever degree, or none, and we can just train you on the job, not just for this position, but all positions in libraries?” She continues, “It’s yet another nod toward the idea that the MLS is worth little to nothing to libraries as institutions, and to the profession. If that’s the case, then let’s be honest [about the fact] that it’s just a money­maker degree for higher-ed and stop pretending that you need the union card to have the skills necessary to do the work and hold the values.” Implicit in Harris-Keith’s comment is a series of social classifications based on the symbolic value of the accreditation. Harris-Keith categorizes librarians apart from those with “whatever degree, or none,” who receive “training on the job.” Library-techs, for example, would fit this description. Indeed, for her and those who share her antagonism, the MLS is what distances the “librarian” from “whatever else,” in part because the MLS is a means of imparting an understanding of the values of the profession: intellectual freedom, service, and access among others.

This belief, that an MLS degree is tantamount to a knowledge of and conviction in library values, is an oft-cited argument leveraged against resolutions that work to undervalue the accreditation. For example, in a subsequent comment, Julie Winkelstein notes that after returning to school to receive an MLS, she “developed a greater appreciation for my chosen profession—its history, its foundations, its beliefs. That education has permeated the work I’ve done since then.” However, the relationship between the two is never made explicit and seems to be based on an assumption that the degree is a proxy for the requirement; in other words, it symbolically represents a set of desired aptitudes.

Harris-Keith seems to be less concerned with the specific skills and abilities required to perform the duties of a librarian, than with the supposed depreciation of consecrated symbolic capital, i.e. the accreditation. Her anxiety is caused by the degree to which the MLS has slipped out of favour, becoming, as she writes, nothing but “a money-maker.” To an extent, accreditations are moneymakers; by definition accreditations are earned by those that have the social, cultural, and economic capital, through their families or position in society, that enable them to exert such levels of resources. The result of that investment is an act of ‘consecration’, from one form of capital to another viź-a-viź the degree, accreditation, and what the associated title means in society (Bourdieu, 1986, p. 10). But in a context where economizing trends continue to destabilize the nature of professions, some accreditations are seen as more “legitimate” than others. As Schinkel and Noordengraaf explain, “In competing for symbolic status with other occupations, a profession is structured as one subfield of the field of power able to claim such status in the form of professional capital recognized as such by others in the field of power, including occupations unsuccessfully claiming such recognition. That is why the traditional professions are still most readily visible as such” (2011, p. 87).

This notion of “fighting for the profession” is reflective of a “stake in the game”, or illusio, where the ultimate goal is to strengthen one’s investment. Keith-Harris is not the only one to utilize this rhetoric. For example, Susan Dillinger writes, “Departing from this requirement doesn’t help us in the fight that the MLS is necessary for the rest of us.” Melora Norman, on the other hand, contours the parameters of librarianship when she writes, “Simple enlarging the field so as to include a ‘larger pool’ seems like an extremely weak and unconvincing reason to change the requirement for a job. If we value the ALA accreditation process, why would we even consider not taking an opportunity to actively prove our commitment?” Norman’s reference to the field of librarianship, while completely divorced from Bourdieu, nevertheless points to the utility of the concept in thinking about how we negotiate and define the parameters of a profession. Norman’s reference to the “enlarging of the field” is incorrect, however; in fact, the reverse is happening. The field of librarianship is shrinking as external pressures from other fields impinge.

To an extent, these concerns are legitimate. According to Noordengraaf and Schinkel “professional managers” are the main culprit. In an increasingly economized landscape, professional managers offer skills and competencies that overlay perfectly with neo-liberal policy. These professional service managers are educated through MBA programs but also through other programs, such as MPA (Master of Public Administration), and Master of Non- Profit Management programs, the latter being a program that is cited by certain librarians as being beneficial for the ALA (a non-profit organization). Ironically, professional managers subscribe to standard professionalizing strategies to secure their positions: “managers build associations, they set-up educational programs, and they establish work codes in order to standardize technical bases and service ethics” (Noordengraaf and Schinkel, 2011, p. 109). Ultimately, this understanding of impinging fields of power helps us understand why Keith-Harris, and the dozens of comments that reflect her view, seem to conflate the operational nature of the ALA with that of a library. For them, having an ALA ED that is not a librarian is tantamount to having a library director that is not a librarian. In the context of librarianship, the process of consecration of symbolic capital is only made possible by the American Library Association (ALA). As a result, the ALA assumes the “totality of social capital… in the hands of a single agent or a small group of agents,” such as the ALA President, ED and Board of Directors, to represent librarianship and exercise “power incommensurate with the agent’s personal contribution” (Bourdieu, 1986, p. 10). The subtext of “not giving in” is reflective, I think, of a perceived imbalance between the incommensurate power of an individual librarian, and the formalized legitimacy of an institution.

This paper has hitherto gestured to how Bourdieu’s theories can help us identify internal and external conflicts in different fields of power. Bourdieu’s work can also help us identify how supposedly benign and commonsensical exclusionary tactics, like accreditation requirements, are tacit acts of symbolic violence against certain groups and communities. Symbolic violence, according to Bourdieu, denotes more than a form of violence operating symbolically: it is “the violence which is exercised upon a social agent with his or her complicity” (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992, p. 167). This concept can be applied to our scenario in two ways. The first perspective posits that by uncritically supporting the “profession,” librarians are doing a disservice to large communities of individuals that are not represented within the ranks librarians, but are nonetheless representative of what a qualified candidate would look like. This is because a “profession” is constructed with certain individuals and qualities in mind; those who have attained the accreditation are precisely the people who were meant to complete the process of accreditation. Over the last decade, Suzanne Stauffer has published extensively on the construction of librarianship, as it shifted from a predominantly male occupation to one represented mostly by women (2016). Through historical analysis, she shows how librarianship was constructed as a profession equivalent to the other white, masculine professions of their day. Furthermore, the educational ladder of librarianship in the was created according to the same mold. Amy Koester, a member of the Association for Library Services for Children (ALSC), explicitly points to the product of this social construction as she defends the new resolution:

Statistically, the current demographics of credentialed librarians—88% white, 83% female—indicate that people of color would be less represented in the candidate pool if a MLS is required because they are underrepresented among MLS­holders. Underrepresentation should not be mistaken for under-qualification; if a candidate pool is limited by a specific credential, and that credential disproportionately favors one group (or disproportionately undervalues others), the process is flawed and inequitable and denies the association the opportunity to consider all truly qualified candidates.

It is important to note that Koester’s critique of the homogeneity of librarianship occurred in a thread altogether separate from the original discussion; thus, Koester’s comments were not challenged or otherwise affirmed by previously mentioned practicing librarians. Nevertheless, in the context of conflicts within fields of power, Koester’s comment suggests that librarians opposed to loosening the requirements for the ED are implicitly committing to a system wherein the largely white nature of librarianship is bolstered and reproduced. I would argue that this wholesale resignation, while not altogether sinister, is the product of (or reflective of) symbolic violence against minorities and disadvantaged communities.

A second perspective, informed by feminist theory, posits that loosening the requirements of the ED to include non-MLS holders is another attempt at eroding the feminine elements of librarianship. Koester’s statistics (88% white, 83% female), while jarring, fail to indicate that women—in particular women of colour—are acutely underrepresented in management positions, including non-profit organizations (see Pynes, 2000; and, Hakim, 2004). This argument builds on Roma Harris’ work in Librarianship: The Erosion of a Woman’s Profession, where she suggests that the professionalizing project is an entirely masculine pursuit, wherein managerial and technology skills supplant service oriented proficiencies traditionally seen as feminine. In keeping with Bourdieu’s perspective, that individuals are at once structured and structuring, this approach points to mechanisms in society that try to maintain certain circumstances by making individuals internalize them as the natural order of things. Consequently, Koester’s magnanimous appeal for increased diversity and equity within the ALA are structured by, and continue to structure, deeply embedded inequalities in our social order. Bourdieu’s concept of symbolic violence (“a violence which is exercised upon a social agent with his or her complicity”) provides us with another potentially fruitful avenue from which to approach this issue. Thus, while not explicitly articulated as such, the comments that opposed the resolution can be considered not as attempts to bolster the homogeneous makeup of the profession, but rather as a desperate attempt at safeguarding against further “defeminization” of librarianship.


A profession is a specialized occupation recognized for competencies and skills acquired as a result of a formal education and for providing a needed service to society. Naturally, this is an idealized definition. The problem is that this definition has been embedded without significant criticism. As a result, the values of a profession, such as librarianship, are zealously supported and defended without reflection, or questioning what underlying sociological forces are pushing us in one direction or another. These forces are difficult to isolate; but at the very least, Bourdieu’s call for a “sociological eye,” together with his suite of theoretical concepts, helps us question the seemingly benign modes of thinking and social concepts that have every appearance of common sense. Ultimately, in a context where neo-liberal economizing is the dominant political and economic philosophy, the scarce, but powerful currency of a “profession” is being undercut. Professionalism is no longer seen as a strong shelter, relatively unaffected by market logics, merit, and performance. As a result, there is increasing sites of tension as professionals attempt to solidify the faint perimeter around their very own field of power.


ALA Board of Directors. (2016). Draft Resolution on the Education Requirements for Future.

ALA Executive Directors. Retrieved from

Bayless, S. (1977). Librarianship is a discipline. Library Journal 102, 1715-1717.

Bourdieu, Pierre and Loïc Wacquant. (1992). An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. Cambridge: Polity.

Bourdieu, Pierre. (1986). The forms of capital. In J. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of theory and research for the sociology of education (241-258). New York: Greenwood.

Bouthillier, France. (2000). The Meaning of Service: Ambiguities and Dilemmas for Public Service Library Providers. Library and Information Science Research 22, 243-272. Budd, John and Lynn Connaway. (1998). Discursive Content and Discursive Power in U.S. Library and Information Service Education. Libri 48, 140-152.

Colley, Helen and Frédérique Guéry. (2015). Understanding new hybrid professions: Bourdieu, illusio and the case of public service interpreters. Cambridge Journal of Education 45, 113-131.

Cronin, Blaise and Debora Shaw. (2002). Banking (on) Different Forms of Symbolic Capital. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 53, 1267-1270. Estabrook, Leigh. (1981). Labor & Librarians. The divisiveness of professionalism. Library Journal 106, 125-127.

Hakim, Catherine. (2004). Key Issues in Women’s Work. London: London School of Economics. Harris, Roma. (1992). Librarianship: The Erosion of a Woman’s Profession. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.

Hicks, Deborah. (2014). Technology and Professional Identity of Librarians: The Making of a Cybrarian. Hersey, PA: IGI Global.

Knox, Emily J. M. (2014). Supporting Intellectual Freedom: Symbolic Capital and Practical Philosophy in Librarianship. The Library Quarterly 84(1), 8–21.

Lonergan, David. (2009). Is librarianship a profession? Community & Junior College Libraries 15, 119-122.

Noordengraaf, Mirko and Willem Schinkel. (2011). Professional Capital Contested: A Bourdieusian Analysis of Conflicts between Professionals and Managers. Journal of Comparative Sociology 10, 97-125.

Pynes, Joan. (2000). Are Women underrepresented as Leaders of Nonprofit Organizations? Review of Public Personnel Administration 20, 35-49.

Schinkel, Willem and Mirko Noordengraaf. (2011). Professionalism as Symbolic Capital: Materials for a Bourdieusian Theory of Professionalism. Journal of Comparative Sociology 10, 67-96.

Stauffer, Suzanne M. (2016). This Work Calls for Men: The Social Construction of Professionalism and Professional Education for Librarianship. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science 57, 311-324.