Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Are we too professional?

In one of Ed Smith's usual thought-provoking articles he ponders the question whether we are mistaken in our belief that professionalism underpins excellence:

"Professionalism was continually invoked as the primary means of improvement, whereas amateurishness was mocked as a laughable relic. But it was often unclear to me what the word professionalism meant. “What we really need,” people would say, is “a good, solid professional win.” How does that differ, I always wanted to ask, from a normal kind of win? In fact, professionalism wasn’t so much a real process as a form of self-definition. We had to become ever-more professional, because that was the lens through which we interpreted progress and success."

The concept of professionalism (often of a MacIntyreian kind) has been considered (and generally celebrated) by a range of authors in the philosophy of sport (for examples below) but perhaps it's time, as Smith says, to realise that unrealistic expectations of professionalism can end up acting as a straight-jacket.

Further Reading:
Howe, P.D. (2004) Sport, Professionalism and Pain: ethnographies of injuries and risk. London: Routledge.
McNamee, M.J., Sheridan, H. and Buswell, J. (2000) 'Paternalism, professionalism and public sector leisure provision; the boundaries of a leisure profession'. Leisure Studies 19 pp199-209.
McNamee, M.J. (2008) Sports, Virtues and Vices. London: Routledge.
Zeilgler, E.F. (1977) Problems in the History and the Philosophy of Physical Education and Sport. Prentice Hall Foundations of Physical Education Series.


Jim Tantillo said...

Emily, good topic. For a philosophically-informed and thoughtful defense of amateurism, you might add Wayne Booth's For the Love of It to the further reading list.

Booth emphasizes "love" as the motivation lying beneath authentic amateur pursuits; late in life he taught himself to play cello out of sheer love of the instrument.

And if excellence is a process and not simply some kind of theoretical endpoint of final skill attainment, then it seems to me the entire journey of learning any skill (athletic or otherwise) can demonstrate excellence.

Booth, Wayne C. For the Love of It: Amateuring and Its Rivals. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Anonymous said...

I think your concept is very fine but most times when people refer to professionalism, it is meant in a way to be synonymous with discipline. Professionalism and amateurism are mainly divided by this aforementioned variable