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Beyond the Duality between Bounded and Boundaryless Careers: Moving the Research forward

Special issue call for papers from Career Development International

Guest Editors:
David Guest (King’s College, London; Email: [email protected])
Ricardo Rodrigues (Kingston Business School, London; Email: [email protected])

Deadline for paper submissions: December 1, 2013
(Submit papers at

Almost two decades have passed since the idea of the boundaryless career was introduced to careers researchers. The concept has highlighted the limitations of researching careers within large bureaucratic organizations and proposed an alternative, inter-organizational, lens that is better equipped to capture the nature of contemporary careers. The writings on the boundaryless career have broadened the research agenda by focusing attention on the role of factors such as the interface between work and life, the importance of networks, embeddedness in occupational communities, changing career preferences and idiosyncratic views of success in shaping career development and identity at work.

While the research on the boundaryless career has been productive, the adequacy of the boundaryless career concept to capture the nature of contemporary careers has also been challenged. Critics have argued that the empirical support for the increase in inter-organizational career mobility is modest; that the concept emphasizes individual agency over the influence of the broad economic, social and cultural context in the shaping of career experiences; and that the boundaryless career ascribes primacy to the role of organizational boundaries, largely overlooking how careers are played out within and across other relevant career domains, such as the occupation, industry, geography and the divide between work and non-work.

The debate about the changing nature of careers and whether these should be viewed primarily as organizationally bounded or boundaryless has been intensive. Though rich and necessary, this debate may also limit the progress of careers research. Part of the problem is that the organizational and the boundaryless career are metaphors seeking to capture specific career patterns. Even though the use of metaphors is common and often fruitful in the social sciences, they invariably provide partial and limited accounts of reality. The reification of career metaphors is therefore problematic. In order to advance the field it is important to build on the virtues of the organizational and the boundaryless career and extend the concepts to open up new avenues of theory and research. In this special issue we invite theoretical and empirical contributions that progress career theory and research by constructively evaluating, building on and potentially moving beyond the duality between bounded and boundaryless careers.

Some of the topics and challenging questions that might be addressed include, but are not limited to, the following:
1. How can career boundaries be conceptualized? What boundaries do people identify as core career shapers? How do people perceive boundaries and what impact does this have on their career behaviour?
2. How can we progress the conceptualization of career boundarylessness and embeddedness taking into account that careers are potentially shaped by multiple boundaries of different types? How can theories not usually applied to careers research, such as boundary or border theory, contribute to advancing the field?
3. What are the key variables moderating the link between career boundarylessness and individual outcomes? For instance, what is the role of career adaptability and career resilience or of concepts such as proactivity?
4. How do contextual variables, such as unemployment or the economic climate, influence people’s decision to engage in career mobility? To what extent does career boundarylessness stem from individual career preferences or from market factors?
5. What are the organizational implications of career boundarylessness? For instance, do boundaryless workers perform better than more bounded workers? Should organizations seek to manage the careers of potentially boundaryless workers and how can they reconcile this with the ‘war for talent’?
6. How does age and the main social roles people enact over time shape their willingness and motivation to engage in different types of career mobility?
7. How do the views about career boundarylessness differ between low and high skilled workers? And what impact does that have on their career attitudes?
8. How useful are the concepts of career boundaries for workers on the margins of employment including the unemployed, those on temporary contracts and those working on zero hours contracts?
9. Has the focus on career boundaries got life in it or is it time to move on and focus on new career concepts and theories; and if so, what might they be?