Received wisdom in the sociology of professions employs two approaches, a narrow socio-economic approach (largely in the Anglo-American world) and a much broader cultural and social-psychological approach (largely on the Continent). Both approaches agree on two points. First, professions cannot be distinguished at a conceptual level from other occupations. Second, whatever consequences either successful or failed professionalism introduces into civil society or state administration are confined to the occupational order and stratification system. They do not and cannot affect the direction of social change. The alternative approach outlined and discussed here is structural and institutional. With this approach we distinguish professions proper analytically from other occupations and we identify consequences of professionalism proper that uniquely reflect or anticipate notable shifts in the direction of social change.