Ideology and Professionals

by Jeff Schmidt

For understanding the professional, the concept of "ideology" will emerge as much more useful than that of "skill." But what is ideology, exactly? Ideology is thought that justifies action, including routine day-to-day activity. It is your ideology that determines your gut reaction to something done, say, by the president (you feel it is right or wrong), by protesters (you feel it is justified or unjustified), by your boss (you feel it is fair or unfair), by a coworker (you feel it is reasonable or unreasonable) and so on. More importantly, your ideology justifies your own actions to yourself. Economics may bring you back to your employer day after day, but it is ideology that makes that activity feel like a reasonable or unreasonable way to spend your life.

Work in general is becoming more and more ideological, and so is the workforce that does it. As technology has made production easier, employment has shifted from factories to offices, where work revolves around inherently ideological activities, such as design, analysis, writing, accounting, marketing and other creative tasks. Of course, ideology has been a workplace issue all along: Employers have always scrutinized the attitudes and values of the people they hire, to protect themselves from unionists, radicals and others whose "bad attitude" would undermine workplace discipline. Today, however, for a relatively small but rapidly growing fraction of jobs, employers will carefully assess your attitude for an additional reason: its crucial role in the work itself. On these jobs, which are in every field, from journalism and architecture to education and commercial art, your view of the world threatens to affect not only the quantity and quality of what you produce, but also the very nature of the product. These jobs require strict adherence to an assigned point of view, and so a prerequisite for employment is the willingness and ability to exercise what I call ideological discipline.

This book is about the people who get these jobs and become members of the ideological workforce — that is, professionals. My thesis is that the criteria by which individuals are deemed qualified or unqualified to become professionals involve not just technical knowledge as is generally assumed, but also attitude—in particular, attitude toward working within an assigned political and ideological framework. I contend, for example, that all tests of technical knowledge, such as the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) or the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), are at the same time tests of attitude and that the examinations used to assess professional qualification are no exception. I consider in detail how the neutral-looking technical questions on such examinations probe the candidate's attitude. The qualifying attitude, I find, is an uncritical, subordinate one, which allows professionals to take their ideological lead from their employers and appropriately fine-tune the outlook that they bring to their work. The resulting professional is an obedient thinker, an intellectual property whom employers can trust to experiment, theorize, innovate and create safely within the confines of an assigned ideology. The political and intellectual timidity of today's most highly educated employees is no accident.

SOURCE: Schmidt, Jeff. Disciplined Minds : A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-Battering System That Shapes Their Lives. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000), Chapter 1, pages 15-16.

If you take the couple of hours of frustration that you experienced meeting with them and multiply it by a large number, then you will get some idea of how much frustration the unimaginative thinkers themselves are experiencing—because they live with such thinking 24/7.

— Jeff Schmidt to Ralph Dumain, 13 August 2001

Jeff Schmidt on Amateur & Professional Shop Talk


Noam Chomsky on expertise & credentials

Alvin Gouldner: Notes & Commentary
by R. Dumain

Ideology Study Guide
(with links to the following and more:)

Bibliography: Ideology by David McLellan
"Ideology" by Jorge Larrain
Karl Marx vs. Cynical Reason: On Suppositions of Naked Self-Interest
Quotable Quotes from The German Ideology by Marx & Engels

Philosophy and the Division of Labor: Selected Bibliography

Intellectual Life in Society, Conventional and Unconventional, & Related Topics: A Bibliography in Progress

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Uploaded 23 August 2001

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