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Profician

Much effort has been expended in the UK on reporting the results of the Great British Class Survey, devised by the BBC and researched by social scientists from three British universities. It divides the economically active population into seven groups, rather different in composition to the six grades of the NRS social grade system (A, B, C1, C2, D, E) and the eight of the National Statistics Socio-economic Classification.

One consequence has been a rare appearance in the public media of the specialist term profician. This is strongly associated with Professor Guy Standing of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, who has been using it since the early 1990s and seems to have coined it. In his book of 2009, Work After Globalization, he discusses it alongside his other socio-economic classifications: the global elite (“a tiny minority of absurdly rich and high-earning people”), the salariat (“high-income earners in stable, full-time employment”, a term borrowed from French and known in English for about a century but which is still specialist), the traditional working class (the proletariat), the precariat (an ill-defined group of insecure casual workers) and an underclass, the lumpenproletariat in Marxist theory.

As the name suggests, proficians are experts in a field and include skilled technicians and professionals. They may be lawyers, sports stars, architects or IT specialists. Their key quality is that they are project-oriented freelance workers (Standing has described them as “self-selling entrepreneurs, living opportunistically on their wits and contacts”) and tend to suffer problems such as stress and burn-out.

Standing could have created proficiat instead of profician, to match the -iat ending of the other terms that have been coined on the model of proletariat. It might now be better known.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 20 Apr. 2013

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This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/topicalwords/tw-pro2.htm
Last modified: 20 April 2013.