Masterclass Normative Professionalisation

Critical Ethics of Care organized its annual Masterclass on November 8 2018, ‘Normative Professionalisation: searching for the good – dedicated professionals between complexity and scarcity’. Introductions were given by professor Gaby Jacobs, lecturer Mariël Kanne and care ethics consultant & counselor Michael Kolen.

Normative Professionalisation has its roots in the University of Humanistic Studies in Utrecht Netherlands, intitiated by Douwe van Houten and Harry Kunneman in their 1993 publication about mental healthcare & counseling both on a professional and a humanistic basis. Their concept of ‘professionalism’ stood already in opposition to what Gaby Jacobs, presenting the first introduction in this masterclass, defined as ‘Instrumental Professionalism’ (also labelling it ‘Professional 1.0’), which is focused on scientifically proven, evidence based practices, nowadays still mainstream – the professional working within frameworks of proven practices and protocols. According to Jacobs, instrumental professionalism is now often considered to fall short of 21th century’s burning social issues, with their increasing complexity and scarcity of means and competent (wo)men to solve them. Although new professions and expertise are booming,  questions of quality and morality are raised, particularly in domains of (public) service organisations and practices. Undoubtedly, scientific approaches intended to warrant the quality of generally applicable methods and algorithms are still mainstream. Nevertheless, professionals working in health care and other domains where well-being, equal rights & opportunities and quality of service are at stake, often find themselves increasingly ill at ease with general concepts, rules and prescriptions, in spite of their alleged (proven) objectivity and rationality.

Notably Harry Kunneman has developed, from the early nineties grassroots, a concept of normative professionalism (Gaby Jacobs coined this: ‘Professional 2.0’) focused on professional’s own values and attitudes to be reflected on both personally and politically: the ‘self-reflective practitioner’. Important in this self-reflectiveness is a ‘third mode of knowledge’, dealing with personal moral and existential problems which the professional encounters in relation to the other two modes: those of scientific objectivity (mode 1) and those of politico-social-pragmatic agreement (mode 2, about ‘what works for us’) Furthermore, normative professionalism (henceforth: NP) is also very much focused on ‘living the moral good life together with others’, in the sense of Paul Ricoeur, and equally important, Richard Sennett’s craftsman’s notion of ‘good work’.
Beyond Dutch borders, important ‘NP’ parallels and influences are further distinguishable in the works of Polanyi, Antonovsky, Bourdieu, and in particular Donald Schön with his distinction between ‘high grounds of research and theorizing’ and ‘swampy lowlands of real life problems’

Together with quite a lot of NP dedicated Dutch co-researchers  ((1)) Kunneman advanced to a normative professionalisation, considered as a continuous learning process, not so much centered around the individual professional, as in contexts of ongoing reflective dialogue between practitioners about their values of ‘good work’ (Jacobs: ‘Professional 2.1’)

Interestingly, Gaby Jacobs in her masterclass introduction, touched upon the outlines of a ‘Professional 3.0’, in particular a ‘Transprofessionalisation’, pertaining to ‘collaboration based practices´, taking into account manifold different and often conflicting disciplines, interests, practices and views regarding complex fields/networks of related problems. Still on Kunneman’s trail, some interesting recent studies are moving in this multi-actor-dialogue direction ((2))

Following Jacobs presentation, a couple of remarks were made by care ethicists: how are voices of care-receivers (especially those of mentally impaired) articulated and heard in Normative Professionalisation 2.1 and even 3.0? Reciprocity between care-giver and care-receiver is perhaps (as yet) under-theorized in NP? Participants remarked that Andries Baart’s concept of ‘practical wisdom’ has incorporated a lot of what counts as normative professionalisation (henceforth: NP+), whereas the crucial care ethicist (empirico-phenomenological) notion of ‘lived experience’ does not appear explicitly manifest in NP or NP+.
Subsequent to Jacobs, two more introductions were given in this masterclass, by Mariël Kanne, more or less as an example of NP+-oriented research, and by Michael Kolen more or less as an example of a critical care-ethics research.

Mariël Kanne’s dissertation ‘Co-creatie van goede zorg’ (Co-creation of good care, Delft 2016) delves into moral case deliberation as it often takes place in Dutch organizations for health care and social care. According to Kanne, co-creation of good care is at stake in institutional moral case deliberation. Many aspects of what Jacobs appointed as ‘Professional 3.0’ are literally present in moral deliberation, including a dialogue between different and often conflicting parties with their interests and experiences. However from a care-ethical point of view, interaction/interplay between organizational deliberation and actual care practices remains an important issue. To what extent can ‘lived experience’ in those practices be represented in moral case deliberation, in particular as felt by care-receivers?

Michael Kolen has attempted to tackle this problem in his dissertation, ‘De ongekende mogelijkheid van het alledaagse’ (The unknown potential of the everyday, 2017). Whereas Kolen, just like Kanne, also recognizes the importance of the institutional context, he has a different approach to get closer to the relations between care-giver, care-receiver and their institutional context. In addition to his personal day to day attendance to the actual care practices, and using several proven conceptual ‘lenses’, Kolen devised his ‘underwater screen’ scan to get a picture of the extent to which the various personal ‘treatment plans´ were comparable with his personal observations of the ‘daily experience’ in the specific care context (youths with mild cognitive disability). See for further details this post  about his dissertation, in particular his conclusion about the richness of possibilities and resources available in daily, ordinary care-practices.

Kolen’s presentation was not immediately followed by a conclusive discussion; attendants were first invited to participate in a web based, interactive questionnaire about their evaluation of Normative Professionalisation, on the spot with their cell phones: the Mentimeter. The results consisted of several most frequent mentioned notions, i.e. topics of discussion: reflexivity, ‘dignified battling’ (‘waardig strijden’), culture of agency (in an organisation), leadership, the importance of narratives, new relations and roles in ‘spaces without walls’, etc.

In the final discussion these topics were discussed in relation to the significance of normative professionalisaton for care ethics with an emphasis on organizational problems and issues.
Jean Pierre Wilken of Hogeschool Utrecht concluded this master class with a personal impression: in his view, all three introductions and their subsequent discussions about normative professionalisation, revolve around two notions he considers very relevant in any normative and critical discussion about contemporary social work: social reflectivity and contextual sensitivity.

Richard Brons


  1. Articles, editorials, introductions in Dutch e.g. by H. van Ewijk, A. Baart, T. van de Ende, G. Jacobs, E. van der Laan, A. Wierdsma, J. Nap, C. Bakker
  2. Studies and dissertations e.g. by H. Kunneman, J. van Ewijk, G. Jacobs, E. van der Vet, M. Kanne, A. Bollscher, C. Sluysmans


Houten, D. J. van en Kunneman, H.P. (1993) ‘De professionalisering van humanistisch geestelijk werk: perspectieven en problemen’ in P.B. Cliteur & D.J. van Houten (red) Humanisme: Theorie en Praktijk. Pp 331-332. Utrecht: De Tijdstroom.

Jacobs, G., Meij, R., Tenwolde, H., Zomer, Y., (red) Goed werk. Verkenningen van normatieve professionalisering. Amsterdam SWP 2008

Kanne, M. (2016) Co-creatie van goede zorg. Ethische vragen, moreel beraad en normatieve professionalisering in de zorg en het sociaal werk. Delft, Eburon. English summary Co-creation of good care pp 348-361

Kolen, M. (2017) De ongekende mogelijkheid van het alledaagse. English and German summaries The unknown potential of the everyday / Das unsichtbare Potential des Alltags pp 229-253

Kunneman, H. (2005) ‘Social work as laboratory for normative professionalisation’ in: Social Work and Society, 2005, 3, 2 pp. 191-200

Kunneman, H (2012) ‘Introduction: Craftmanship and Normative Professionalization’ in: Good Work: The Ethics of Craftmanship (red) H. P. Kunneman Amsterdam SWP pp 3-15


About the author: Richard Brons

Richard Brons

Richard Brons (1950) graduated in philosophy and literary studies at University of Amsterdam and VU Amsterdam (NL). At the University of Humanistic Studies in Utrecht (NL), he completed a NWO PhD research on J.F Lyotard's ethics of Differend, about the injustice of speechlessness. Since 2012, he is responsible for the final editing of Waardenwerk Magazine, a continuation of the Journal of Humanistic Studies. Currently he is interested in confronting postmodern critical voices of male protagoniists like Lyotard and Foucault with the different voices of feminists like Gilligan, Benjamin and Butler.

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