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The social organization of dietetics. Darknell, Frank Alan

Abstract

The essay deals with the various factors at work which make for the disruption and the integration of dietetics, an organized occupation which attracts women with a specialized university education. Dietitians are seen as performing so wide a range of tasks, that, while they all work with or near, or in support of food, it is difficult to see them as performing one "occupational role." Their varied tasks deploy them into a number of institutional settings which are the strongholds of sometimes conflicting value-systems. Thus by working on hospital wards and in commercial restaurants, they find themselves playing roles committed to such differing ends as treating the sick and maximizing profits. This dichotomy of interests is reflected in the dietetic ideology, at the level of formal organization. There appears to be a negation of the unity which the ideology was meant to bring, after unofficial and official redefinitions of the ideology add moral distance to the gap already separating the hospital dietitians from the commercial people. In spite of all this, however, the social organization of dietetics is maintained, by a number of counter-pressures which contain the disruptive influences. One of the most significant of these is held to be the common marginality in which dietitians find themselves wherever they work in their varied and segregated jobs. Another, important unity factor proposed is the attempt to gain professional status, to replace what appears to be no definite status. Professionalization, which in this case serves as a kind of collective mobility, is put forward as one of two currents of change affecting dietetics. The other, the expansion or spread of function or control, refers to the prospects for if not the pressures on dietetics to expand further into a commercial milieu. Thus at the level of the occupational system, dietitians on one hand seem to be trying to become more like the established professions, and on the other, more involved in commercial activity. Such a situation, it is suggested, has important consequences for the definition of the profession in the study of occupations, as well as for the description of dietetics and occupations like dietetics. The case study approach to the study of social organization has been utilized in this essay. Techniques used have included personal interviews, and analysis of documents, as well as first-hand observation of dietitians in their work.

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