Beyond ‘blue-collar professionalism’: continuity and change in the professionalization of uniformed emergency services work

Leo McCann, Edward Granter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
274 Downloads (Pure)


The sociology of professions has so far had limited connections to emergency services occupations. Research on emergency occupations tends to focus on workplace culture and identity, often emphasizing continuity rather than change. Police officers, firefighters and paramedics have their historical roots in manual, technical or ‘semi-professional’ occupations and their working lives still bear many of the hallmarks of blue-collar, uniformed ‘street-level’ work. But uniformed emergency services - like many other occupations – are increasingly undergoing processes of ‘professionalization’. The organizations in which they are employed and the fields in which they work have undergone significant change and disruption, calling into question the core features, cultures and duties of these occupations. This paper argues that sociology of work on emergency services could be helpfully brought into closer contact with the sociology of professions in order to better understand these changes. It suggests four broad empirical and conceptual domains where meaningful connections can be made between these literatures, namely: leadership and authority; organizational goals and objectives; professional identities; and ‘extreme’ work. Emergency services are evolving in complex directions while retaining certain long-standing and entrenched features. Studying emergency occupations as professions also sheds new light on the changing nature of ‘professionalism’ itself.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213–232
JournalJournal of Professions and Organization
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jul 2019


  • ambulance services
  • emergency services
  • firefighters
  • paramedics
  • police
  • professionalization


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