1 - Generating new directions in career theory: the case for a transdisciplinary approach  pp. 7-25

Generating new directions in career theory: the case for a transdisciplinary approach

By Michael B. Arthur, Douglas T. Hall and Barbara S. Lawrence

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The limitation of social organization is found in the inability of individuals to place themselves in the perspectives of others, to take their points of view.

George Herbert Mead, 1927

When we pause in our studies to reflect on theory and method, the greatest yield is a restatement of our problems.

C. Wright Mills, 1959

The concept of the career has never been more popular. Once viewed mainly as a synonym for initial job choice, it is now widely accepted as a central feature in employment arrangements. Career development and human resource management programs are not only widely accepted but also seen as critical to both individuals and organizations. Such programs cover a wide range of issues, from individual careers and work–family accommodation, to policy and strategic concerns such as the aging of the work force, adaptation to new technology, and organizational productivity (Gutteridge, 1986; Mills, 1985). However, these trends mean that much of the practice of managing careers has come close to catching up with the body of theory that inspired it (Hall and Associates, 1986). Either career theory has served its purpose and should be laid to rest or it needs a good shot in the arm.

We believe this state of affairs exists not because we are done explaining careers, but because work on the topic has moved away from its conceptually rich heritage. As a result, career studies are at risk of addressing increasingly narrow and decreasingly innovative questions. Our view is that a good shot in the arm will help rejuvenate career theory and also help us adapt to the dynamic character of modern industrial society.