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[Excerpt] Career scholars regularly cite Hughes’ (1937: 413) dictum that the study careers as “the moving perspective in which persons orient themselves with reference to the social order, and of the typical sequences and concatenations of office – may be expected to reveal the nature and 'working constitution' of a society.” Yet the greater part of the careers literature typically ignores this by focusing, largely, on the careers of individuals and influencing factors mainly linked to the person and his or her immediate context, to the neglect of the broader context within which the careers are lived. However, large-scale economic and organizational changes that have affected most industrial societies in recent decades – the rising amount of business activity across national borders (Anderson & Cavanaugh, 2005), the increasingly global arena for entertainment and media, the influence of the internet in economic, social and political affairs, increased labor force participation by women and concomitant changes in family roles, and the emergence of distinctive forms of employment relations across countries (Whitley, 1999; Barley & Kunda, 2004) – make neglect of the social and political contexts in which careers unfold very problematic.

These developments have reshaped the multitude of settings in which work careers are lived: the communities of organizations, occupations, geographical areas, and so on. Specifically, the broad social context that provides the canvas on which work careers are painted, rather than the immediate organizational context as discussed, for example, by Johns (2001), is an important, yet partly neglected factor for understanding work careers. The immediate context may, of course, form a link between career and the broader context. However, it is the latter and not the former type of context that is a primary object of interest in this respect. We suggest that research exploring the broad context within which work careers are lived helps us understand better the nature of career in an Internet-based, globalised economy and how these careers, in turn, influence developments in the context.


Suggested Citation

Gunz, H., Mayrhofer, W., & Tolbert, P. S. (2011) Introduction to special section: Careers in context [Electronic version]. Retrieved [insert date], from Cornell University, ILR School site:

Required Publisher Statement

© Sage Publications. Final version forthcoming as: Gunz, H., Mayrhofer, W., & Tolbert, P. S. (in press). Introduction to special section: Careers in context. Organization Studies. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.