Adviser on the Edge

careers in island communities: research, theory and practice


Time and Place (and careers)

A week or so ago I gave a presentation at The University of London as part of The Careers Group‘s “Festival of Research”. I was talking about geography and career development and I started the presentation with this point:

Geography of Career Development

What I pointed out was that when speaking about careers we often use metaphors of ‘pathways’ or ‘journeys’ (Inkson, 2007). Now, the metaphor of a journey or a pathway is both a spatial and temporal metaphor – journeys take place in time and space. However, my challenge to the audience was: how far as careers professionals and in our body of career theory, do we prioritise the temporal elements of careers over the spatial?

The relative neglect of space in recent years has been something that has been raised as an issue across the social sciences, writers like Massey (2005) and Gieryn (2000) concerned to make the case for the continuing importance of geographical space. Soja (2010) makes an important point for careers professionals:

The larger significance of the spatial turn and the resurgence of interest in critical spatial thinking arise from the belief that we are just as much spatial as temporal beings, that our existential spatiality and temporality are essentially or ontologically coequal, equivalent in explanatory power and behavioral significance, interwoven in a mutually formative relation’ (p.16)

Soja suggests that in the tradition of Western thought we have experienced something of an intellectual distortion – prioritising time over space, history over geography. This is interesting because I suspect as careers professionals we may also have experienced such a distortion. On a theoretical basis for example developmental theories of careers are common – which encourage us to think about careers in terms of life-stage. But do we have theories which place spatial characteristics of careers at centre stage?  Perhaps some structural approaches help to focus us on issues of space (in terms of the labour market), although I would suggest that these have tended to focus on social structures rather than a broader consideration of geography. On a purely practical basis, as careers advisers how often do we gloss over geography and focus on temporal aspects of career development? And when we ask questions like ‘where do you see yourself in five years?’ how likely are we to actually be seeking an answer that focuses on a geographical where?

Whatever else I covered in my presentation in London I hope I raised a few questions about how far we conceive careers as both temporal and spatial phenomena.



Finding my place: poetry and migration

Something you may not know about me is that as well as being a careers adviser and studying for a PhD, I am also a poet. Over the last six months or so I have been thinking about creative writing, and exploring potential connections with narrative and biographical approaches to careers and migration. This thinking culminated in a paper that I presented last week at the Creative Orkney conference.

Finding my place

Title slide from my presentation at the conference

In this paper I examined my own use of creative writing during my geographical migration from Cornwall to Orkney. I started by discussing the terminology of ‘place’ and identifying how place is ‘space invested with meaning’ (Cresswell, 2004). I then discussed how creative writing is an excellent tool for generating meaning, and therefore may be used to develop an attachment to a new place. In addition because creative writing requires us to be specific and concrete, this can be particularly useful for enabling us to authentically engage with a new place: learning and using the names of the places, plants, animals and even weather systems for example in our new place.  This helps us to avoid being ‘inauthentic’ in our relationship with place (Relph, 1976)

Alongside helping us to engage with a new place, I also discussed how writing can help to manage some of the emotional content of migration – in my case this was grief at leaving Cornwall, and excitement of moving to Orkney. I identified how regular writing practice could offer a kind of security and familiarity. I also discussed how poetic form and metaphor particularly may be useful as ways of ‘containing’ some some of the challenging emotional content of migration.

Hopefully the full paper will be published as part of the conference proceedings, but in the meantime I’d be really interested  to hear if anyone else has thoughts about how creative writing might be used at a time of geographical migration. Who knows perhaps there is scope for further work in this area?


Cresswell, T (2004) Place: a Short Introduction

Relph, E (1976) Place and Placelessness