Discourses of professionalism: Metaphors, theory and practice

Matthew Jon Links*, Tim Wilkinson, Craig Campbell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Professionalism is a contested concept and different discourses have differed by scope and epistemology. The theory of communicative action integrates epistemology (knowledge interests) with that of scope (lifeworld). Aim: To pragmatically inform learning of professionalism. Methods: apply the theory of communicative action to professionalism discourses. Results: Previous professionalism discourses translated into four frames: technical; communicative; improvement, and critical. These can be viewed as four metaphors the scale; conversation; consensus conference, and protest. The theory of communicative action demonstrated that a critical frame was often lacking from discussions of professionalism and emphasized critiquing the assumptions made, the way power was utilized, and the ends to which actions were directed. Using these frameworks connected discourses on professionalism to other key medical discourses particularly quality improvement, patient centeredness, social justice, and the professional well-being. Conclusion: The theory of communicative action adds value by introducing criteria for the evaluation of individual truth claims that expands the discussion beyond accuracy to include sincerity, ethics and coherence; and it emphasizes promoting free speech and the inclusion of diverse views and stakeholders. The theory of communicative action provides a coherent and useful framework for viewing professionalism that integrates with broader discussions about philosophy, truth claims, and post-modern society.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-98
Number of pages8
JournalMedical Teacher
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


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