Research and security professionalism: The Nexus


The NexusBy Michael Cool

Many new professions are emerging across society and security is purportedly one of them.

The embryonic development of emerging professions is challenging, with many barriers between their current standing and broad societal recognition as a profession. Professions are a social designation, from a sociological standpoint occupational groups engaging in self labelling do not define professions; it is the public and legal arenas through supported explicit jurisdictional claim which define them. The influential works of Wilensky (1964) voiced this very view, arguing that the lay public cannot accept the need for special competence in an area where everyone is an expert.

A large body of literature exists to guide emerging professions through the professionalization process to become recognised as a group in charge of a body of knowledge that can be applied reliably to solve society’s problems. A review of such literature highlights that professional work is that which requires the use of discretion and judgement in making decisions backed by knowledge and skills and driven by values. For instance, Wilensky’s (1964) influential work expressed both cognitive and normative criteria for professional groups, stating (1) the job of professional groups is technical-based on systematic knowledge or doctrine acquired through long prescribed training (cognitive); (2) the professional adheres to a set of professional norms (normative). Consequently, a profession’s knowledge or doctrine represents its currency, its perceived value or worth in undertaking their role in society.

Jacques (1989) works on the strata of labour supported Wilensky’s view, expressing that professional work relates to problem complexity, where such work relies on processed knowledge to engage in higher strata problem solving. A profession’s cognitive dimension is centred upon the knowledge and techniques in which this knowledge is applied (Larson, 1977). This knowledge according to Abbott (1988) is used to classify a problem, to reason about it, and to take action on it. Or in more formal terms to diagnose, infer and treat an identified professional level problem. These tasks represent the three core elements of professional practice, and are undertaken accordant with the sciences or model of societal learning that underpins their application.

Thus, professionals possess and use processed knowledge, tied to academic knowledge which underpins professional work. That is, its academic basis defines its jurisdictional boundary. The abstract knowledge required by practitioners to perform a profession’s work is what is meant by body of knowledge (BOK). This forms a resource, a professional knowledge system and is consistently taught to all members of the profession in order to prepare them for proper performance of their work. Reflecting on the sociological discourse, security does not stand up as a profession in the traditional sense as few outside the domain recognise its professional streams. This is not to say that individuals within the domain are not professional, it is just that in the group phenomenon security lacks professional recognition.

Friedson (1973) explains this point through the professionals’ continuum. This sees two intersecting continuums, one encompassing a non-profession and profession end, the other a highly professional and unprofessional end. The first task is to locate where on the profession continuum your occupation lies, then where individuals within the category would sit in terms of their individual professionalism. According to Friedson (1973) doctors are professionals, but individual doctors may not carry themselves professionally. The opposite is true for taxi drivers, which is not a recognised profession but individuals within the occupational group may be very professional at what they do. Therefore, security practitioners may be highly professional, but they are not members of a recognised profession. Peterson (2014) clarifies security’s position well stating traditionally common education (such as that found in medicine and law) is the seed to a profession. However, security in contrast draws its coherence through an informal community of practitioners rather than through a codified body of knowledge. Yet this does not need to be the case as all kinds of knowledge can be organised as common resources for such a body and this includes security knowledge.

However, mapping a body of knowledge requires a clear research focus, as Horrocks wrote in 2001, identifying who or what delineates a security professional is vague, this point remains valid today. Security is well recognised as an occupational domain discipline, represented through a mosaic of complex tasks undertaken across various occupational groups, but few recognise what a security professional is. Such a state of ambiguity was recognised by the Australian Security Professionals Task Force (2008) stating, “this lack of comprehension is driven by ubiquitous understanding by security users of the difference between the quality and capabilities expected by those providing front-line operational services including manpower and technology, and those providing professional services security advice such as security advisors and risk managers. This position is exacerbated further by the lack of standards defining the expected knowledge, competencies and ethical behaviour of security professionals (p. 4)”.

Before security as an occupational group can progress along its professionalization journey, there must be research undertaken with the aim of solidifying its academic basis. This basis must include a well-defined and inclusive yet clearly bounded body of knowledge, along with internal structure. However, security is a broad domain encompassing concerns including traditional (threats to sovereignty) and non-traditional (threats within a nation state-law and order) endangerments rendered across many organisations including government operations, military, law enforcement, emergency services and private security operations. Thus the development of sound bodies of knowledge within the security domain must be clearly focused, commencing within jurisdictional practice areas. Within the non-traditional domain Manunta (1999) associated the discourse’s focus towards managing those threats which pose a risk accordant with the functioning within a nation state, with roots spreading from disasters to crime prevention within the concept of law and order. Within this paradigm Talbot and Jakeman (2009) presented five salient, overarching, overlapping professional practice areas, including physical security, people security, the security of information systems (ICT) and information security, layered over by the broader category of security management. Thus the mapping of a body of knowledge within the non-traditional stream must focus on codification of these practice areas as a start.

To commence jurisdictional understanding within the non-traditional stream my current research is undertaking a cultural domain analysis of the physical security sub-domain. The aim is to fuse through codification the diverse cultural domain of physical security in terms of desired knowledge areas and their supporting content along with its internal structure as an organised knowledge system for future physical security professionals. Cultural domain’s structure are based on isolating the fundamental units of cultural knowledge, represented through repeated themes, organised based on contrast and similarity in terms of hierarchy or other orderings. However, one of the barriers in conducting security research is gaining participation of those in the industry. Unlike domains such as medicine and psychology where evidence based practice and research informed teaching is valued, many in the security domain are unwilling or feel they are too busy to engage in research programs. As a result security’s progression through the professionalization process is impeded. This is in contrast with other emerging professions such as occupational safety and health (OS&H) who are enthusiastically progressing their body of knowledge. Unlike the security domain OS&H’s professional standing appears to be building, and many OS&H professionals are being assigned security oversight and responsibilities as perception exists that everyone knows security.

The professionalization process in OS&H has seen salaries in this domain increase well beyond the salaries of many security professionals. Tooma’s works highlighted this nexus articulating their connection lies in the risk management approach. However, security risk management is a specialised form of risk management. In addition, security risk management is simply the means to diagnose the security or crime problem. Sitting under diagnosis are specific security theories and principles along with core jurisdictional knowledge that guide the selection of control or influence variables to treat the problem. For physical security professionals this embodies more engineering type knowledge including barriers and technology along with procedural controls which combine to achieve an effective protective system. This again requires additional learning. However, security will not be recognised as a specialised area at the professional level if it cannot demonstrate the requirement for a distinct knowledge base and what the fundamental elements of that base are.

Thus, if security is to be recognised in the group phenomenon as a profession the industry must actively engage in security related research. This includes attempts to articulate its distinct body of knowledge within its practice areas and demonstrate the worth of the security professional accordant with their professional currency of jurisdictional knowledge. Engaging in domain research needs to be a role and priority of every security professional and practitioner. For security professionals and practitioners their value is tied to their public standing and their financial remuneration a product of that standing, which is tied to the perceived level of knowledge and skills necessary to undertake their work. My current research is commencing this structural mapping journey to show the detail and structure of technical knowledge required to diagnose, infer about and treat professional level physical security concerns.


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