Phil Hodkinson’s Careership – Theories Every Careers Advisor Should Know

Phil Hodkinson’s ‘careership’ theory in my view is an often overlooked theory. Hodkinson takes a primarily sociological approach to career, by which I mean he aims to understand how wider societal forces and the individual interact. As Hodkinson says (in his article with Andrew Sparkes) his aim was to steer a course between sociological understandings of career that tended to emphasise social determinants and policy discourse that tends to assume that the individuals marketing career decisions are free agents.

To do this Hodkinson looks to the work of French Sociologists Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieu was a French sociologist primarily concerned with how power dynamics shaped the reproduction of social life. He is most famous for introducing us to concepts such as social capital, habitus, field and symbolic violence.

Building on Bourdieu Hodkinson and Sparkes state 3 premises which are the basis for their theory of career decision making. Let’s have a look at them one at a time.

(i) pragmatically rational decision‐making, located in the habitus of the person making the decision.

(ii) the interactions with others in the field, related to the unequal resources different ‘players’ possess.

(iii) the location of decisions within the partly unpredictable pattern of turning‐points and routines that make up the life course.

The most important parts of these theories probably relate to how Hodkinson and Sparkes uses Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus and capital. Habitus claims that we each have an individual way of seeing and behaving inside the social world whilst capitals claims we have different social resources (such as relationships, skills, reputations etc.) that we can make use of in the field in which we find ourselves. Both of these ideas of habitus and capitals occur inside the ‘field’. As my colleague Ciaran Burke is fond of saying the French that Bordieu uses is not of a pastoral field (with daisies etc.) but of a battlefield, fields are where people compete for social position and result and this competition occurs on the basis of individual’s habitus and capitals.

Hodkinson’s use of Bourdieu is helpful for understanding the processes that actually occur when individuals aim to develop their careers. Hodkinson shows the place for rational decision making but how this is tempered by the habitus of the individual and the capitals at their disposal. All of this leads to a set of theoretical tools particularly useful for exploring disadvantage and inequality from a career development perspective.


Hodkinson, P., & Sparkes, A. C. (1997). Careership: a sociological theory of career decision making. British journal of sociology of education18(1), 29-44.


2 thoughts on “Phil Hodkinson’s Careership – Theories Every Careers Advisor Should Know

  1. Tom this is so important. Can you write this in a way that non academics will access. Its a hard one but practitioners should get to grips with careers hip theories.. I would love you to write something very practicsl

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