Adviser on the Edge

careers in island communities: research, theory and practice

Cross-cultural research: careers in island communities

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In my last blog I was discussing how being at the ECADOC summer school got me thinking about the potential for collaborative research looking at cultural differences in the impact of rurality on career development. In this blog I want to consider what this research might look like….

So, during the ECADOC week one of the keynote speeches was from Ronald Sultana who talked about his experience of doing research in different cultures, particularly in Europe and in the Middle East. He challenged us to think about how our research relies on mainstream notions of careers guidance that may not be shared by all communities or cultures. For example, we are largely used to talking about ‘careers’ that are about individual choice and self-fulfilment, however these concepts may not be shared by everyone – for example in some contexts it may be more common to talk not so much in terms of careers but livelihoods, where work is a “curse”, and where notions of individual choice are not as salient as community expectations, and determination by external factors. His examples of different contexts included Maori contexts, Indian and Arab contexts and class cultures. Interestingly he also included ‘small states’ in this set of contexts, considering particularly how in small states career choice may be different  to commonly assumed ‘norms’ because of the scale. So for example, in small states it is common to have a ‘chameleon career’ – that is one characterised by shifting career identities, occupational multiplicity, and shifting expertise. In addition the small community may lead to a career that is more influenced by personal ties, with employers commonly familiar with applicants prior to application, and sometimes exhibiting favouritism based on personal knowledge.

Now, Sultanta’s approach is obviously very interesting to me, he is the only person I have come across to have articulated some of the experience of career development and careers guidance within small communities. However, what this also got me thinking is about the intersection of different cultures – for example, class cultures and small states, how do notions of career differ between classes within a small community? And how do notions of career differ between different small states with different cultures? So for example, Sultana himself is from Malta, so how do Maltese notions of careers differ, say from those in Orkney and Shetland? At the most basic level, I bet that Maltese students don’t feel that some of the appeal of moving away is for warmer weather, like some of the students I interviewed back in April! Indeed when I met Ronald at the ECADOC conference he mentioned how escaping the heat of Malta for the relative cool of Paris was a particularly attractive feature of the summer school!

Considering how different cultures intersect I’m sure there is scope for some kind of comparative study, looking at the experience of different island groups for example in different parts of the world. Perhaps something for the future?

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