Metaphors of Career 2: Inheritance (part 2)

I’m my last blog I explored how we inherit career though social structures. Social categories such as race, gender, where we live, class etc. can determine our careers. This view of inheritance mainly looked at how social factors act on us. This second blog on inheritance will go on to look at how we are influenced by the world around us and act differently ourselves. This theory of inheritance focuses on how we ourselves act and why and less on how the world around us acts on us.

In my last post I discussed Ken Roberts’ “Opportunity Structure” theory which focussed on how our chances in life are limited and directed by social factors. Another career theorist, Bill Law, responded to Roberts with his own community interaction theory. Law looks at inheritance in terms of us learning about career through the communities we are part of. In this theory our internal learning, rather than external social factors, is primary.

Social Learning

So how according to Law do we learn from the communities we are part of? Law picks out five ways this happens; information, expectations, modelling, feedback and support.

Information are the views and opinions that a community shares about the world of work. How a community may talk about what a good or bad job is, how you find work, what the purpose of work is etc.

Expectations takes this one step further and applies information to an individual. This is someone saying what you should or even will do. This may be specifically directed at someone or a more generally about what someone does or what a certain sort of person does (gender, race, class etc.).

Modeling occurs as we observe other people’s actions and respond to the examples they give. Unlike the other two this can be unintentional, people are not necessarily aware they are modelling something about career to others.

Feedback is giving a critical response to someone’s actions. Overtime this feedback can grow into a conclusion about who someone is. The first time a kid does a good drawing they’re told its nice, the second they’re told their good at drawing, third time they’re very creative and by the forth they’re a talented artist and so on.

Support is other people reinforcing our ideas about our careers and helps us move towards them through support that they give themselves.

Most of us tend to think that our careers are the product of our careful thought and rational decision making. The idea that other people might have substantially influenced us, even have influenced our careers more than our own enlightened thought, is a bit unnerving. Partly this is why I find working with metaphors as proposed by Inkson so attractive. Law’s theory creates a different perspective that forces us to think differently about our careers. Where have our ideas come from and who are we playing our careers out with?

Social Career Narratives

I think this second point is particularly important, our careers are not just individual projects but we have others included in them and stand alongside us in our careers. Law’s perspective on inheritance asks us to decide how we will relate to others in our careers stories. It’s temping to think that careers development is an individuals’ project and is best done alone, other people and their values should be ignored or removed so the individual can decide what is best for them. But I don’t think this is the only option, people have different views on how they relate to their communities. Part of realising how our communities have influenced us is then deciding how we will respond to this. I’ve come up with four options off the top of my head.

Maintaining Unity – This is where there are a clear set of expectations and values that a culture holds and the individual chooses to follow them and take their place in order to please others. This is using a career primarily to maintain and strengthen a set of social relationships. The value put on the people in their community and their views becomes primary.

Breaking Convention – This is the opposite to what comes above. Here the community is related to through conflict, the individual puts themselves in a position where they come into conflict with their community. Here an individuals desires are preferred to what the community values.

Renegotiating Position – Rather than creating direct conflict someone may try and maintain peace in a relationship while still moving the status quo to somewhere they can pursue their desires. This is a compromise between the two above options. To give an example its saying something like “Dad you’ve always wanted me to be a Doctor because that’s a respectable profession, but wouldn’t becoming a lawyer be respectable as well?”

Cultural Migration – Here the value of having a supporting community is upheld but the individual moves between communities to find one that provides the best resources for what they want for their future. Take the kid from a working class background who goes to uni and finds himself drawn away from the town he grew up in to the new world of learning and exploration he finds himself part of. Community as a concept is valued but the individual moves between communities to pursue what they want.

Looking at this social theory of career asks us how others have been involved in our careers. Where have our ideas come from? How have others been involved in developing our thoughts? This forces us to uncover a different perspective but also we need to ask what we want to do with this perspective. Maybe we will discover we are just following the example of our parents in some way or tied in by our peers expectations. But how do we actually feel about this? I’ve said I want to propose a practical example in these blogs well in this case as an exercise I would recommend asking if we can think of ways we’ve experienced the five points in Law’s typology and then which of the four social narratives I’ve discussed you most relate to.


Law, B. (1981) Community interaction: a mid-range focus for theories of career development in young adults, reproduced in Dryden, W. & Watts, A.G. (Eds) Guidance and Counselling in Britain: A 20-Year Perspective, Cambridge, Hobsons Publishing, pp.211-230.

Law, B (1993): Community Interaction: a ‘Mid-Range’ Focus for Theories of Career Development in Young Adults – postscript. In Windy Dryden and A.G. Watts (eds) Guidance and Counselling in Britain – a 20 year perspective. Cambridge: The Careers Research and Advisory Centre, 31- 34.

Law, B (1981, 1993, 2009): Building on What we Know: Community Interaction and its Importance for Contemporary Careers-work. The Career Learning Network.

Dallison, K. (2009) Classics – Community Interaction Theory in Careers – In Theory. Accessed 26th August 2012. <> 

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