Home » My Thesis » Bodies of Knowledge Part I

Bodies of Knowledge Part I

What makes something an academic/scientific or professional discipline/profession?

The topic has been taken up by a variety of authors from many different fields of study and professional practice.  Despite the different essential characteristics proposed, one essential characteristic appears shared, in one form or another,  by almost all of the different conceptualizations:  disciplines and professions are in possession of a body of knowledge that is distinct from other disciplines/professions.  The body of knowledge represents what is currently known (and not known, or under study) within the discipline. It is the current “state of the art” of a discipline. It also represents a discipline’s current structure.  A satisfactory body of knowledge is a necessary (but not sufficient) requirement for disciplinary/professional status.  Although conceptualizations may disagree on the other conditions, there seems to be a consensus that without a claim to a distinct body of knowledge, a candidate field/occupation cannot achieve the status of discipline or profession.

When it comes to the body of knowledge of professions, however, it is important to recognize they are based upon two separate, but related, bodies of knowledge.  The first body of knowledge is the academic or scientific  discipline/sub-discipline  a profession is based upon.  Medical science is the scientific discipline of the medical profession, for example.  You can be a researcher or teacher in any of the many branches of medical science without being a physician.  Likewise, although learning basic medical science is necessary for becoming a practicing physician, that knowledge alone is insufficient for becoming a practitioner (in the same way that learning from biology, chemistry, etc. is a requirement for learning medical sciences but is not part of medical science’s body of knowledge).

Professions require knowledge from a second body: the professional body of knowledge.  As expressed in my thesis: “The professional body of knowledge contains information, skills, methods, techniques, results, and standards of application that must be mastered (and perpetually updated) by those who wish to practice (Sefton, Shea, & Hines, 2011).”  This body of knowledge, on the whole, must come from within the profession itself, not from outside of it.  There are many things that a professional needs to know (e.g. laws, regulations, policies) that are not actually works created by the profession or the discipline, and should be considered at best to questionably belong to a field’s body of knowledge.  Or they may belong to a body of knowledge, but perhaps only in small proportion compared to internally-generated knowledge.

This structure of knowledge within professions means that it is therefore possible (and even likely) for a  candidate profession’s academic/scientific body of knowledge to form (and thus allow recognition as a discipline) before there is a satisfactory professional body of knowledge (which would allow recognition as a profession).  I believe many authors, however,  see EM/EDM as a field of study with one body of knowledge that equally serves academic/scientific study and professional practice.  As a result, the possible presence of the academic body of knowledge is taken as evidence towards the field’s status as both discipline and profession.  Thus the field may be seen as much closer to professional status than it actually is.

There is also another problem: EM/EDM may not be the entirety of the field of study/discipline.

Disciplines have subdisciplines and branches; and within professions there are specialties and subspecialties.  This is important because, if one were hypothetically looking at the body of knowledge of a subdiscipline or a professional specialty in isolation, you might  likely mistake what you are looking at for the discipline or professional body of knowledge in its entirety. For example, Jensen (2010) concludes that because EM/EDM has a body of knowledge it is close to disciplinary status, and that the term “emergency management” encompasses the entire discipline.  At the same time she reports that the EM curriculum at North Dakota State University concerns ‘“how human beings create, interact, and cope with, hazards, vulnerabilities, risks and the events associated with them” ‘ (Jensen, 2010, p. 10).   This description appears broader than what is usually associated with EM/EDM as either field of study or occupational area.  It is closer to what is referred to as “disaster studies” or something similar.  It is quite possible a part is being confused with the whole.

The resolution of  these issues ultimately center around knowing more about the disciplinary and professional body of knowledge within EM/EDM.  Many authors have asserted the field has an acceptable body of knowledge, but there have been few empirical attempts support the claim…

NEXT: BODIES OF KNOWLEDGE PART II


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