A study in professional ideology: City managers and public housing officials
To achieve professional status, members of an occupational group must convince the public that they have a moral right to control the quality of their work and the conditions under which it is performed. If public administrators seek such status in a democratic society, they may have to prove that they do not intend to abuse their authority. If employed at tasks which forward the goals of social reform, these administrators may also have to justify the purpose of their work.
In the United States, city managers have acquired many of the attributes of professional status while public housing officials have not. To account for this difference, an analysis is made of the structure of social relationships within which the work of each group is carried on, and the collective efforts each group has made to achieve professional status.
City managers have sought to remove “administration” from “politics” and to manage municipal affairs on the basis of expert knowledge. When their initial claim to administrative autonomy was challenged by an adverse public reaction to council-manager government in the 1920s and 1930s, the managers responded in three ways: (1) by convincing the public of the managers' subordination to the council, (2) by learning to protect the council from public embarrassment, and (3) by proving that their work requires specialized knowledge.
Public housing officials have had much less success. Starting in the era of the 1930s Depression, and seeking to make a better life for disadvantaged families, they faced the threat of political opposition and felt obliged to prove that housing projects could be efficiently managed. To achieve this, they focused attention on their relationships with tenants. But in this respect, housing officials—including the managers' superiors—have found it hard to reconcile the contradiction between “social work” and a “straight business” approach. And without being able to maintain an association of occupational peers enabling them to address their own operational concerns, project managers have found it hard to gain recognition of their distinctive status.
Area planning & development
0999: Urban planning
0999: Area planning & development