A Workshop on Professionalism and Vulnerability – A Collaboration with the Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiatives at Leeds and Emory University

The School of Law, University of Leeds, in collaboration with Emory Law School, is pleased to announce the launch of a new research hub at the school.

The School of Law, University of Leeds,  in collaboration with Emory Law School, is pleased to announce the launch of a new research hub at the school. The Vulnerability and Human Condition Initiative at Leeds will be directed by Professor Martha Albertson Fineman and Dr. Stu Marvel and housed within the Centre for Law & Social Justice.  The workshop on vulnerability and the professions represents the inaugural event of the VHC at Leeds, and we warmly invite you to join us to celebrate the start of this exciting new Initiative. 

While the VHC at Leeds will be hosting a range of workshops, visiting scholars, and other scholarly events in the years to come, we are particularly pleased to mark the launch of the Initiative with this event. Vulnerability and Professionalism represents a multi-year project to explore how a comprehensive focus on vulnerability - the vulnerability of the professional, the professions, the client, and the larger society - can help us to more readily and complexly understand the social ramifications of professional behaviour. The project will also seek to explore how a vulnerability focus might help us to rethink fundamental questions of social and structural responsibility, as well as the role to be played by law and institutional norms. We believe that a turn to social obligations, as framed by the vulnerability analysis, can have a potentially radical impact on the world of work.  This workshop will provide an initial discussion of ideas that will help inform future directions for the project.

We have seen a radical transformation in the organization of work. From medieval guild labor, followed by the rise and dominance of unionization, to the stripping of workplace protections and the rise of a culture of individual gain and individual responsibility, the organization of work continues to change. However, our relationship to labor and the workplace continues to structure human lives, even as the relationship between those who employ and those who are employed has fundamentally shifted. Increasingly, those jobs classified as "professional" have an altered, narrow conception of "ethics" applied to them. Thus, the marketized and de-regulated sectors in which many professions operate has given rise to the displacement of an equitable 'civic culture' with a 'business culture', which further undermines the credibility of the professions' classical claims of altruism and public service. Notwithstanding the sustained critique of the claims of ethicality in the traditional professions, the increasing framing of responsibilities as transactional, and mediated by market forces, rather than as underpinned by more fundamental ethical principles further raises questions about the value that is derived from 'professionalism' by either the professional, the client, or, indeed, wider society. Alongside these transformations, the exclusivity of the boundaries of professional expertise faces disruption from new competitors and technologies. Moreover, the notion of 'professionalism' is used in occupational settings, far removed from traditional professions, as a disciplining discourse of workers exhorted to work 'professionally', but without the traditional claims to autonomy, ethicality and expertise.

This workshop will use the lens of individual and institutional vulnerability to examine historic, comparative, and contemporaneous depictions of professionalism. This new approach is proposed at a point at which core features of professionalism have been undermined by the pressures of neo-liberal market imperatives, alongside a post-modern cultural skepticism about professions' claims to expert knowledge.

Registration is free and refreshments will be provided.