Reading the following on Dead Voles, I couldn't help recalling Keith Hart's frequent references to the guild structure of academia.

More on conditions of work: guilds and industrial revolutions


As the last major profession organized on the medieval guild model (masters, journeymen, apprentices), academia is now going through an Industrial Revolution of its own. In the 17th-18th century, the guild system fell apart completely because the proliferation of journeymen meant that few would ever become masters, although the system was based on the assumption that they would. The result was the proletarianization of the journeyman class and the disappearance of the independent masters. This is precisely what’s happening in academia now. Any distaste we may have for this process is just a form of misplaced bourgeois aspirationism.

From Greg A (of Slawkenbergius), buried in the comments of an old post.

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Comment by John McCreery on June 2, 2013 at 3:17am

Hi, Mott. Nicely observed. Continuing the discussion, I think we also need to be careful when comparing guild structures to examine the legal and other sanctions that support them, a point I learned from reading in the sociology of professions. Doctors and lawyers whose state-sanctioned guilds are legally protected by penalties for pretending to be a member of a guild are in a different position from that of say, advertising creatives, preachers and other wannabe professionals, whose claims to professional status rest on shakier ground. Academics are now in the curious position of claiming professional status sanctioned not by law but by intermediary institutions —the universities—whose own institutional status is now up for grabs, invaded by corporate raiders with their sacred veils in tatters. 

Comment by Mott T Greene on June 1, 2013 at 6:40pm

  There's no doubt that academia is a guild, and the way that is organized is explicitly medieval, at least in the United States, where academics are the only ones who wear medieval robes, except for judges. In the UK and  Canada barristers still wear wigs and robes but not here


As for the notion that this structure is going away in academia I don't think this is true,  nor hs academia the only learned profession organized with a guild structure. Both law and medicine are organized on this model. In law you have the  sequence: law school graduate, attorney who has passed the bar, and at the top level law professor/judge/firm partner. In medicine there are interns, residents, and board-certified physicians. I don't see these going away anytime soon, even though there is a sort of crisis of overproduction of lawyers at the moment.

The guild model is certainly intact as well in building trades: carpenters, plumbers, electricians, sheet metal workers, bricklayers and masons and many other of the trades have a master/journeyman/apprentice system firmly in place and quite functional.

I think the analogy with the 17th and 18th century doesn't hold very well for academia because in academia there are few independent masters ,and almost everyone works in a university. While tenure may and probably should go away, I don't expect the universities will -- the current enthusiasm of deans and administrators for MOOC's  notwithstanding.  Nor do I think the sequence bachelor/Master/Dr. will go away, especially in the hard sciences, mathematics, engineering,  On the other hand,  we clearly have a vast intellectual lumpenproletariat  of underemployed, or rather fully employed but disastrously underpaid and poorly treated adjuncts.  But even here, if these professionals hold the doctoral degree, that's not the same as a journeyman who never becomes a master, but masters who are poorly paid and have little job security


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