Public sector professional identities: a review of the literature

Baxter, Jacqueline (2011). Public sector professional identities: a review of the literature. The Open University, UK, The Open University, UK.


Increasing marketization; policies which enhance and embrace the idea of multi-agency collaborative working, and an economic climate in which the biggest spending cuts since the Second World War, are being felt across the public sector; imply testing times for the public services and professionals working within them .(Ball 1993; Allen and Ainley 2010; Ainley and Allen 2011). Research across the sector reveals professionals to be facing multifarious challenge: not purely in terms of how they execute their role, but fundamentally, causing them to question their values, sense of salience and professional identities: what it means to be an effective public sector professional in the 21st century.

This review, commissioned by the Professional Identities Cluster Group, comprising academics from the Faculty of Education and language studies and The Faculty of Health and Social Care, explores the multifaceted ways in which professional identities are evolving, and investigates key elements which appear, across the sector, to be most influential in shaping these identities.

The study begins by contextualising professional identities against the political, economic and social background within which they operate, discussing the ways in which the very term ‘professionalism’ has been contested over the last 50 years. Looking across the fields of: nursing, teaching, higher education, further education, social work and youth work, it explores communalities and divergence within the context of four key themes: multiagency working, the role of professional learning, the effects of resistance discourse and the ways in which policy shapes and is inculcated within professional identity, and concludes by suggesting areas for further research.

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