Fundamentals of Social Psychology

Chapter 24: Occupational Groups

Emory S. Bogardus

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AN occupation is a standardized, and persistent type of activity. It is a complex set of ways of doing according to which persons make a living and by which some find their largest opportunities for social usefulness and personal development. An occupational group is a public that has grown up around ways of earning a living. When an occupational consciousness reaches a certain level, a local organization, for example, a trades union, is formed. Then national or international organizations may follow, chiefly for purposes of group security and maintenance of standards.

The members of a given occupation develop a special vocabulary, many biases, and specific attitudes toward other occupational groups. Most people devote their best hours to their occupations and hence the social psychology of occupations deals with the heart of life. Each occupation makes its own demand on attention and thought, and develops its own mental problems.


Doing a thing or a set of things according to certain patterns every day, in season and out, tends to create a psychical pattern for each person. The occupation of driving ox-teams will produce a slow-moving mental pattern, while driving a taxicab in a large city will lead to a quick-moving mental pattern. Acting as a motorman with the sign before one of "Don't speak to the motorman" gives one a day's work in a mental vacuum, while teaching classes of wide-awake, inquiring young people sharpens one's wits and develops an intellectually alert mental complex. Correcting children's mistakes in arithmetic, spelling, and reading for several hours daily, over a period of years produces a mistake-hunting mental pattern. A hunting life establishes different psychoses than does agriculture.

Objects won in occupational activities become values, social values. These values are paralleled by correlative attitudes ; and hence, each occupation is characterized by social values and attitudes peculiar to

( 280) itself. Business activity yields money, which becomes a chief value for business men. Missionary activity bears fruit in "converts" who become the leading values to missionaries. Political life yields votes, one of the chief values to "politicians."

It would seem that two persons starting with about the same predispositions, the same urges to activity, the same human nature, and mental potentialities, may choose different occupations ; for example, one, a money-making occupation, and the other, a service occupation such as missionary work, and at the end of twenty years have become "successful" but have drifted so far apart in mental interests as to have almost nothing in common.

It appears that an ordinary person's mental equipment is such as to fit him to succeed in any one of a number of occupations. "Rarely does it happen that talent is suited to one occupation only." Occupational activity seems, however, to take the inherited stock of impulses and aptitudes and be instrumental in organizing them in complexes, so that a given person's thinking at the age of fifty is quite different than it would have been had he followed some other occupation at which he might have succeeded equally well.

Choice of an occupation therefore is momentous. Most individuals drift into their occupations. Much of the work that has been done in vocational guidance and education has neglected the social psychology of occupations. There is little valuable data on hand, and yet these factors are perhaps the most important of all, for occupation exercises such powerful influence over human thinking. A person's attitudes of life at fifty are forecasted in his choice of a vocation at twenty or fifteen. The responsibility of vocational guidance is far-reaching.

Whiting Williams, after observing men at work in many parts of the world, makes the following general conclusion: "We tend to live our way into our thinking, more than we think our way into our living."[1] From the standpoint of a student for many years of educational processes R. L. Finney concludes : "Our interests predetermine our thinking, seldom does our thinking select our interests."[2] A social worker in studying prison wardens points out that the effect of being placed in charge of other beings, who are deprived of their liberty and civil rights, is demoralizing and too great a strain.[3] Mumford indicates that a socialist given to thinking about the human suffering which has accompanied the growth

(281) of capitalism thereby becomes blinded to the worthy phases of organization, distribution, and control within a capitalistic industry.[4] A lawyer likewise is occupationally influenced :

The mood of partisanship has been that of a lawyer who is getting up an argument and is looking for such facts as will bolster up his case. That mood is inimical to free and intelligent thought; its object is rhetorical triumph.[5]

A community organized expert in dealing with people of all occupations observes : "So all men are prisoners to their special work and point of view." [6]

In a comparative statement Gault brings out the idea :

The professional disposition or complex of the physician renders him suggestible in the face of situations that leave the carpenter untouched. He responds with enthusiasm to a movement for paving the streets because it "suggests" to him what never occurred to the proposers—the improvement of sanitary conditions.[7]


A person who has enjoyed his work in a given occupation and has succeeded in it, is apt to feel that "his" occupation or profession is the most important of all. All of life becomes organized habitually around one's occupational activities. An anonymous writer, for example, illustrates the point when he says : "The miller thinks that the wheat grows only in order to keep his mill going." A social psychological interpretation of the situation is given by Williams when he refers to a business man:

In the course of his work his business became precious to him because it was that for which he had given his life, just as children are precious to the mother as that for which she has given her life, and the book to the author as that for which he has given his life. Life is precious and whatever one gives it for becomes precious [8]

The egocentrism of occupation affects the wage-earner and the capitalist similarly. The effect of specialization, of a relatively narrow horizon in both cases, is clearly evident. The tendency of both capital and labor to feel themselves superior to each other is eclipsed by the belief of both that they are superior to society itself. George Eastman, the kodak man-

( 282) -ufacturer, punctures the fallacy when he says : "Man could not go into the woods and build up a big business. It is the community who make it possible."[9] Hobhouse puts it this way :

The poor man maintains "my" right to work and wages as though the community whose system of exchanges makes work profitable and gives money wages their value had nothing to say to the claim. The inheritor of wealth talks of "my" property, and resents interference with it by society, forgetting that without the organized force of the community and the rule of law, he could neither inherit nor be secure from moment to moment in his possession.[10]

In this connection the attitudes of college professors are notorious. Each one is apt to believe that the subjects he teaches are more important than other subjects. If any courses of study are to be "required," each professor feels that his own should be included. A frank and conscientious student who, in good faith, tells his teacher that he "didn't get anything out of that course" had better not enroll with that teacher again soon.

The successful farmer feels the superiority of his occupation over other lines of activity, and does not conceal his attitude. If he be of the traditional type he boasts of his "independence," and how he can do as he pleases on his own land. He openly expresses pity for the "poor fish" who coop themselves up in large cities, wearing white collars and developing soft hands.

The hereditary leisure classes even proclaim the superiority of an idle existence. They make an occupation out of doing nothing. They exalt afternoon teas and bridge parties into a dignified profession, scorning to soil their hands by manual labor. As their mental faculties atrophy they become incapable of perceiving that their do-nothing existence, instead of being the highest of all, may be the most vapid, silly, and anti-social of all.

Occupational uniformities of thinking become conventional and more or less fixed. Occupational literature furthers the traditions. Trade journals cater to the occupational prejudices of its constituents. Each boosts the calling it represents, until its readers become saturated with occupational pride, which, in time may become occupational blindness. A person usually takes one or several occupational journals which he reads regularly, but is not interested in, and does not read regularly the journals of other lines of activity.

Occupational uniformities become fixed in group heritage. Children are trained in these traditional lines of thinking from early infancy.

( 283) Table talk and family conversation has its occupational center. He who shifts to a calling different from the parental one soon finds himself swallowed up in a matrix of old and established occupational thinking. Each craft, trade, or profession tends to develop its own cultural heritages, slogans, beliefs, or even superstitions. These are sooner or later caught up by the individual and with modifications become a part of his thought life.

Each functional group has its own type of intersocial stimulation. People who are working at the same tasks come together to talk "shop." "Shop talk" is a strong evidence of occupational influence on thinking, and of the large place which occupational thinking holds in the lives of the workers in any field of activity. By daily meeting people of the same type as one's self, who are doing about the same thing in a similar way, one's tendency to develop an occupational complex is magnified.

Each occupational group has its own institutions and organizations through which its thinking becomes crystallized in established ways and stimulated along new lines. These organizations may become highly developed, as in the case of the American Medical Association and the American Bar Association, which set up standards of professional ethics, and rule the professional conduct of the membership.


An occupation not only affects the mental patterns of individuals; not only develops heritages of belief and feeling, but it also creates class cleavages and other social divisions. Its values often come to be rated so high that occupational groups seek social and political power. Business organizations attempt to control legislation ; labor unions enter politics; and even professional groups lobby for laws they desire. Professional groups usually are stimulated to seek legislative aid as a protection. They feel the encroachment of other organizations in the same field. Note, for example, in the United States, the struggles between the various medical groups for protection or freedom through political means. In the United States labor unions were at first pronounced conspiracies against the government, and it was only after a long fight that they achieved political status. Both business and labor organizations, after becoming highly organized, have sought to dominate the social order. In recent years we have educational bodies actively engaged in trying to impose their occupational values and even professional techniques upon society.

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This development of occupational control has been given specialized emphasis in recent years in various economic theories and practices, such as bolshevism, guild socialism, and by the I. W. W. A tangible form is found in the general concept of occupational representation versus geographic representation. This idea of occupational control is centuries old, finding expression in the guilds in England, which six or seven centuries ago, secured governmental representation.

In many continental towns, the craft guilds, as such, elected the members of the town council. Thus in Florence, beginning in 1293, the twenty-one principal federations of craft guilds chose the Priors and all other important magistrates. In Strasbourg the City Council was composed of the delegates from the twenty-five principal guild groups.[11]

National government bodies likewise have been based on occupational representation. The English Parliament originated as "an assembly of the `estates' of the landed nobility, the clergy, the free-holders, and the merchants and manufacturers of the towns," while the legislature of Sweden down to 1866 "consisted of four houses, representing the clergy, the nobility, the burghers, and the peasants, respectively, with each house meeting and deliberating separately." [12]

In primitive society territorial and occupational representation are closely related, but as industrial specialization developed, particularly after the Industrial Revolution, a large number of occupations came to permeate a specific territorial area, and occupational representation ideas were eclipsed. The method has recently come to the fore with the emphasis given it by the communists of Russia. The workmen's councils or soviets have stressed the occupational procedure as a means of creating a proletarian government. By it the communist perceives a means of ruling nations and the world, for the skilled and unskilled occupations outnumber all others. He favors it as a means of dethroning the "minority" now in control, the minority who own the wealth and who are supported by the intellectual élite and the upper half of the middle class woo aspire to a wealth status.

Outside of communist ranks, moreover, there has developed a large following of the occupational control idea, especially among those who have become disgusted with the evils of current political methods, and with its "bosses" and "machine control." It is argued that men who live near one another, but having different occupational attitudes, cancel one

( 285) another's influence, so that political power comes into the hands of manipulators. It is also argued that occupational representation, on the other hand, would give persons who work together and have common attitudes, representation, as such. There is no guarantee that occupational representatives would be less selfish and less given to political log-rolling and chicanery than geographic representatives. Occupational groups could doubtless be graded regarding their social attitudes with the result that the occupations with the higher social values would probably be in the minority and hence overwhelmed.

Occupations are subject to various classifications. A profession is a type of occupation in which activity is specialized and requires special training, and in which service is put ahead of wages. As soon as it acquires standing, mountebanks pose as members and try to fool the public. Then, the field is deliberately fenced in, and standards or examinations are required for entrance. In this way superior persons are protected and other equally superior persons are attracted.[13] The problem of excluding the unfit, the quacks, and the charlatans is difficult and ever-present. A profession is different from a business, in that the profit motive is subordinated ; it requires technical knowledge that can be developed only by extended study by persons who have an aptitude therefor.[14]

The evidence, however, does not permit the adoption of an occupational determinism theory, for work is only one factor in the development of a person's social attitudes. It clearly is not wholly dominant. It may become a subordinate factor if a person attempts to see himself in his occupational attitudes as persons in other occupations see him; if he analyzes the biases which his occupation generates, and establishes habits of personal control over these occupational biases.


1. An occupation is a standardized and habitual type of activity.

2. Thinking tends to become organized about activities.

3. Habitual activities seem to influence thinking more than thinking affects activities.

4. Occupational activity develops an occupational egocentrism.

5. Occupational uniformities of thinking easily become customary and conventionalized.

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6. Occupational uniformities of thinking develop into mental patterns.

7. Occupational thinking becomes formulated in organizations, institutions, and standards of ethics.

8. Occupational patterns lead to class cleavages and conflicts.

9. Government by occupational representation would give the lower grade trades dominance over the higher grade professions.


1. What is an occupation?

2. What is occupational egocentrism?

3. Explain : "work makes the worker."

4. Illustrate: occupational uniformities of thinking.

5. Illustrate : "shop talk."

6. Explain the term, occupational ethics.

7. Why may a person ordinarily succeed equally well in more than one occupation?

8. Illustrate occupational representation in government.

9. Why is occupational representation favored?

10. What are the weaknesses of occupational representation?


1. What are the differences between a trade and a profession?

2. Why do we tend to live our way into our thinking more than we think our way into our living?

3. Why do people who live a life of do-nothing luxury and consumption pride themselves upon being superior to hard-working folks?

4. Distinguish between the "shop talk" of any two occupations.

5. Distinguish between the professional ethics of any two professions.

6. What factors determine a person's choice of occupation?

7. What would be superior to either geographic or occupational representation in government?


Douglas, Paul H., Occupational versus Proportional Representation, Amer. Jour. of Sociology, XXIX: 129-157.

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Follett, M. P., The New State (Longmans, Green: 1918), Ch. XXXIII.

Veblen, Thorstein, The Theory of the Leisure Class (Macmillan, 1912), Ch. II.

Williams, J. M., Foundations of Social Science (Knopf, 1920), Chs. III, IV.


  1. Horny Hands and Hampered Elbows (Scribners, 1922), p. ix.
  2. Causes and Cures for Social Unrest (Macmillan, 1922), pp. 7-8.
  3. Homer Folks, National Conference of Social Work (1923), p. 4.
  4. The Story of Utopias (Boni and Liveright, 1923), p. 256.
  5. Ibid., p. 255.
  6. Henry E. Jackson, Robinson Crusoe, Social Engineer (Dutton, 1922), p. 197.
  7. Social Psychology (Holt, 1923), p. 140.
  8. The Foundations of Social Science (Knopf, 1920), pp. 57-58.
  9. Hearst's International, XLIV : 36.
  10. Elements of Social Justice (Holt, 1922), p. 26.
  11. P. H. Douglas, "Occupational Versus Proportional Representation," Amer. Jour. of Sociology, XXIX: 2.
  12. Ibid., p. 131.
  13. E. A. Ross, Principles of Sociology (Century, 1920),p. 474.
  14. J. M. Williams, Principles of Social Psychology (Knopf, 1922), p. 225.

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