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Friday, September 10, 2010

 

ASHA and Other Professional Associations

In The Logic of Collective Action, Mancur Olson theorizes that any large group must be held together by one of two factors: force or selective incentives. As I have been reading and contemplating his work, I have also been attempting to apply his theory to groups that matter to me. Since I would like to become a speech-language pathologist, one organization (or group) that came to my mind was ASHA. For those of you who do not know, ASHA stands for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, which is a national professional association comprised of speech-language pathologists and audiologists. Professional associations are organizations of professionals intended to provide standards of practice and to protect both the public and the organization’s members.

From its roots in 1925 with 25 members, it has grown to include 130,000 members as of 2008. This growth is astounding. Applying Olson’s logic, I wondered what has held the group together and increased its membership. As a rule, membership in ASHA is not compulsory: speech-language pathologists and audiologists are required to be certified but they are not forced to join ASHA and can obtain certification elsewhere. They can be and are employed without membership in the organization. Olson’s theory would predict that the association must therefore be held together by selective incentives.

This does indeed seem to be the case. Researching the ASHA website (www.asha.org), I found that the selective incentives for joining the group are quite strong. Among the benefits highlighted on the ASHA website are “professional publications,” “continuing education opportunities,” “networking opportunities,” and “career-building tools.” Looking further, I noticed a matching site for those seeking speech-language therapy services; this feature would garner independent clients exclusively for ASHA members. Additionally, most professionals (I would hope) seek to serve their clients and advocate for their clients’ needs as best as they can, and this desire is upheld in ASHA’s vision and mission statement: “empowering and supporting speech-language pathologists, audiologists, and speech, language, and hearing scientists by: advocating on behalf of persons with communication and related disorders, advancing communication science, and promoting effective human communication.”

Returning to Olson, the speech-language therapists and audiologists who join ASHA are driven to do so not by force but by the selective incentives such membership provides. Because force is not the driving factor behind membership, not all professionals in this field belong to ASHA. However, since the selective incentives are attractive and powerful, many professionals do opt to join.

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