Adviser on the Edge

careers in island communities: research, theory and practice


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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.