Bounding Boundaries: Building a Typology of Careers with the Concept of Boundary
The core idea of this paper is that the concept of boundary can help us to understand the social form careers take. The concept of boundary has informed much of the literature on careers. Scholars are now looking beyond the boundaryless/boundaried divide as the boundaryless argument has been convincingly contested theoretically and empirically. This is what we do in this article. It offers a definition of career boundaries which can be empirically tested as both objective and subjective construct along two dimensions: the existence of fixed career patterns and that of individual, shared, or collective awareness of these patterns. This leads us to build a six-case typology combining these two dimensions. To test the explanatory power of this theoretical framework, we use the original case of French poets. As poets do not work in stable organizations, we could expect erratic careers. We find that poets’ careers are not erratic, but follow fixed patterns, structured by publishers and the pace of publications, with, respectively, shared and individual awareness of these patterns. We also find that similarly reputed poets tend to follow similar career patterns as they cross the same boundaries at a similar moment in their career. We end by discussing how our typology can help to understand careers, using examples from the literature from various professional settings.
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