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Legitimacy and Survival of a Professional Organization: The Association of Borderlands Scholars

Ellwyn R. Stoddard


In Western society, our institutions of higher learning are a fragmented array of intellectual specialties known as academic disciplines. Academicians are professionals (as distinguished from other occupations) and are thus evaluated and legitimized by fellow professionals whose training and credentials define their competency to do so. Over time, groups of professionals are recognized and accepted as a discipline which gives them a degree of credibility in the larger society as well as mutual acceptance among themselves. Academicians who display a mainstream loyalty to an accepted and institutionalized academic discipline are afforded protection and support; those who do not find themselves somewhat vulnerable inasmuch as publications in mainstream journals and colleague acceptance within the discipline are major factors affecting faculty retention decisions. Professional associations are similarly affected.

When any group of professionals ventures outside these traditional alignments and categories of truth (as defined by disciplinary boundaries), it discovers that institutionalized support available to disciplinary-based associations is lacking. In order to survive, it must find alternative means to preserve its identity while at the same time trying to acquire a measure of legitimacy. For a newly defined field of inquiry such as borderlands studies to achieve the legitimacy of a profession and ensure its survival as a professional entity, it must manifest the following five characteristics outlined by Greenwood (1962:207-218):

1. a systematic body of theory and extensive specialty training,
2. professional authority and a monopoly of judgment,
3. a positive sanction from society for its implementation,
4. a code of ethics for peer review and control and
5. a professional culture and acceptable lay stereotypes.

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Print ISSN: 0886-5655
Online ISSN: 2159-1229