Autonomy vs. Insecurity: The (Mis)Fortunes of Mental Labor in a Global Network

  • David B. Downing
Keywords: intellectual labor and work,


Traditional views of mental labor all had something to do with public accountability: the professionalized development of disciplines of knowledge depended on what Steven Brint calls “social trustee professionalism.”  Professionalized mental workers were granted a degree of autonomy with respect to the knowledge they would create, control, and disseminate (not unlike the old artisans’ guilds), and the accompanying privileges presumed a kind of implicit social contract to the extent that the knowledge would enter the public realm as a benefit to the society as a whole.  These idealizations have now been pretty well unmasked since most expert professionals now work primarily for the benefit of private capital, and well out of view of public eyes.