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

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David B. Downing


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.

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