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Bounded Reflexivity: How Expectations Shape Careers

Mon, August 14, 2:30 to 4:10pm, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Floor: Level 5, 516E


Many sociological studies have shown the positive effects of self-awareness and reflexivity in shaping individuals’ career paths. However, using life- and work-history interviews conducted with 23 salespersons in Toronto, Canada, I find that the demonstration of high levels of self-awareness as marked by active deliberation over one’s career has both positive and negative results in terms of career outcomes. Respondents whose careers went as they expected early on tended to benefit from reflexively managing their careers as they aged, while respondents whose careers did not initially begin as planned sometimes benefited from thinking about alternatives but also sometimes cast themselves outside of careers they deemed to be "normal." Observing the way that some respondents formed new career plans based on unmet expectations and remained committed to those emergent plans, I argue that reflexivity’s role as a mediator should incorporate its function as a potential career trajectory anchor. As such, I use my findings to problematize and extend studies which do focus on reflexivity’s ambivalence – such as Margaret Archer’s work on reflexive styles – by demonstrating how ongoing experiences that individuals have shape both how they engage in reflexive assessments as well as what these assessments entail for these individuals’ careers.