For an Anthropology of professionalism(s): moral experience of British doctors and a Brazilian ethnographer
(University of Oxford)
Paper short abstract:
This paper discusses an incursion into interdisciplinarity, drawing on an ethnography of moral experience of British doctors in England to address the Ethics/Sociology divide in medical education scholarship. It calls for an Anthropology of professions and of professionalism(s).
Paper long abstract:
This paper discusses an anthropological incursion into an interdisciplinary research program of professional education in British medicine, and its attempt to bridge a gap in the scholarship of professionalism: the Ethics/Sociology divide. Ethical theories emphasize the philosophical basis of moral deliberation about (and for) professional practice and the moral aspirations assigned to (and by) practitioners of professions. Sociological theories emphasize the economic and political structuring aspects of professional work regimes and the moral actions rendered necessary to socially (re)produce forms of professionalism. A research agenda was set up for an integrated approach reconciling these two perspectives. They both reflect hegemonic Euro-American cosmologies, so this ethnocentrism should be addressed. A Brazilian ethnographer immersed in a 14-month participant-observation fieldwork with British primary healthcare doctors - general practitioners [GPs] in Southwest England. Following a 'moral anthropology' project (Fassin 2008), it sought to understand ethical discourses and moral accounts framing GPs' moral context. It evolved into an ethnography of 'moral experience' (Kleinman 1999) of professionalism, the individual and collective moral agency of GPs and ethnographer alike (A & J Kleinman 1991). Negotiating this methodology amidst interdisciplinarity eventually required resorting to anthropology's founding principles to guide a way forward for a relevant and valid ethnographic practice (Lewis & Russell 2011). Taking such a standpoint was a professionalism claim (Strathern 2006) that valued intersubjectivity and secured an analytical orientation towards cross-cultural comparison (J Good 1999). This process raised a call for an anthropology of contemporary professions and of emergent professionalism(s) worldwide.