Bill Law’s Community Interaction Theory _ Theories Every Careers Adviser Should Know

Bill Law’s community interaction theory looks at how we learn about our careers in a social context. Law’s theory attempts to combine structural and psychological vocaonal theories to describe how the communities we are part of shape our learning and therefore our careers.

In a previous post we looked Ken Roberts opportunity structure theory, Law was a strong critic of Roberts at the time arguing that it underplayed personal agency and instead created a form of conservatism that simply encouraged people to “stay in their place”.

Whether this criticism was entirely valid is up for debate but what I think is very clear is how Law’s theory attempts to sit between structural and psychological factors. Law acknowledges that people’s backgrounds are significant to them but tries to explain this more in terms of how our environments affect our thinking rather than the actual opportunities available to us.

Leaning in part on the work of Bandura Law describes this social learning help us to understand how we learn about ourselves and the world of work both for good and bad in a social context:

  • Information – How information about the world of work and especially legitimate options are shared in a social content.
  • Expectations – This is based around what the social groups we are part of see as acceptable. Often we follow these influences in order to become acceptable to others.
  • Feedback – This is what other people say about who we are. We either take on others views and use them to help understand ourselves or use what we see as negative aspects of this feedback to attempt to change who we are.
  • Modelling – This is to do with following the example of others. We often, especially when we are growing up, pick other people as a desired goal for who want to be.
  • Support – How community members may offer help and assistance to each other either through encouragement or through access to resources.


What Law shows is that who we spend time with and who we pay attention to effects who we are. This is very much a developmental theory of identity showing how other people change us. I really like it’s practical nature and how it creates nice clear categories to effect on. Most people can look through the list and think of how other people have influenced them in the various ways described above. I also like how it can be taken positively to start thinking about how relationships could be a positive influence and it one sense describe how “networking” could be of benefit to us.

on a different note I feel the Roberts vs. Law debate is not always the most helpful one. Both of them agree that our social positions influences our career, the extent to which this is structural and so out of our control or psychological and so to some extent inside our control is in danger of being a false dichotomy. I feel both can be of influence and need to be understood. I’m not sure Law meant for this dichotomy but it does seem worth avoiding in our thinking if nothing else.


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. (2009) Community Interaction and Its Importance for Contemporary Careers-Work. The Career Learning Network.

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