Making sense of our working lives: the concept of the career imagination

Laurie Cohen, Jo Duberley

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This essay considers how the traditional concept of career retains its power in an age of contingency, short-termism and gig work. To answer this question, it introduces and explicates the concept of the ‘career imagination’. This concept has three key dimensions: perceptions of enablement and constraint, time and identity. Situated in the nexus of structure and agency, it is through our career imagination that we envisage and evaluate the progress of our working lives. Encapsulating continuity and change, our career imagination helps us to understand the enduring legitimacy of the traditional career as a yardstick by which to measure success, and the emergence of new possibilities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
JournalOrganization Theory
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2021


  • activity theory
  • careers
  • identity
  • legitimacy
  • practice theory
  • reputation
  • structuration
  • time


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