Sub-theme 24: Career Imagination and Institutional Legacy

Amit Nigam
City, University of London, United Kingdom
Gina Dokko
University of California, Davis, USA
Candace Jones
University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Call for Papers

Careers are a major element of our quest to lead a good life, but in pursuing a career, individuals must contend with legacy embedded in institutions. Careers are conditioned by and given meaning by institutions, i.e., institutions structure the career choices individuals consider or see as legitimate. But individuals can also break free and envision new career directions or new types of careers, and actualizing these imaginings through career moves can create new legacy and even shift or create institutions.
Thus, careers and institutions bring together imagination and legacy in making good lives. People’s career backgrounds enable them to imagine a more inclusive and sustainable world and give them the tools to shape institutions (Edelman et al., 2001; Howard-Grenville et al., 2017; Nigam & Dokko, 2019; Wickert & de Bakker, 2018). At the same time, institutionalized structures (e.g. educational structures) embody divisions (e.g., race and class) in societies that can influence who gets included or excluded from particular careers (Rivera, 2016), as well as how people formulate career trajectories in the midst of wider institutional changes in the world of work (Petriglieri et al., 2018). Studying how individuals and institutions are connected through careers has the potential to enrich understanding of how institutional influence shapes individual career choices and outcomes, and how institutions evolve and co-evolve with careers over time.
The literatures on careers and on institutions have largely evolved separately, with limited cross-fertilization (exceptions are Barley, 1989; Jones & Dunn, 2007; Peiperl et al., 2002). When implicating institutions, careers research has largely emphasized the way in which larger institutions structure individuals’ careers (e.g., Gunz et al., 2007; Jones, 2001; Stovel et al., 1996; Tams & Arthur, 2010). Less attention has been directed toward exploring the relationship between careers and the core themes of institutional theory (e.g., institutional logics, institutional work, institutional actors, organizational fields). At the same time, institutional theory researchers have devoted limited attention to explicitly theorizing the role of careers (exceptions are Jones et. al., 2012; Nigam & Dokko, 2019).
This sub-theme seeks to gather scholars working at the intersection of careers and institutions. It aims to attract careers researchers who are using a careers perspective to explore core theoretical themes in institutional theory (e.g., institutional logics, organizational fields). In addition, it aims to attract institutional scholars who are beginning to consider the role of careers in institutional processes. Our expectation is that sharing diverse work focused specifically on the intersection between careers and institutions will be generative in a way that is distinct from a broader track focused on either careers or on institutions. We anticipate that discussions across different perspectives, coming from largely distinct research communities in careers and in institutional theory, will stimulate new directions for theory and research. We plan to emphasize empirical work in this sub-theme, though we welcome theory work that brings new insight to study of careers and institutions.
Some possible topics for papers in the sub-theme include, but are not limited to:

  • Exploring how organizations or institutions can imagine individuals’ careers as vehicles for a good life;

  • Discovering how people’s career experiences and job mobility can expose them to a multiplicity of institutional logics (e.g. how people carry new logics with them when they move between countries, industries, or societal sectors);

  • Understanding how career trajectories and legacy structures enable or constrain action to build more inclusive and sustainable institutions;

  • Showing how individuals imagine their career futures as they cope with radical or unanticipated institutional change that disrupts their careers;

  • Examining how institutionalized career templates form or re-form as individuals craft their careers in pursuit of good lives.



  • Barley, S.R. (1989): “Careers, identities and institutions: The legacy of the Chicago School of Sociology.” In: M.B. Arthur, D.T. Hall & B.S. Lawrence (eds.): Handbook of Career Theory. New York: Harper Collins, 41–65.
  • Edelman, L.B., Fuller, S.R., & Mara-Drita, I. (2001): “Diversity rhetoric and the managerialization of law.” American Journal of Sociology, 106 (6), 1589–1641.
  • Gunz, H., M. Peiperl, D., & Tzabbar, D. (2007): “Boundaries in the study of career.” In: H.P. Gunz & M. Peiperl (eds.): Handbook of Career Studies. London: SAGE Publications, 471–494.
  • Howard-Grenville, J., Nelson, A.J., Earle, A.G., Haack, J.A., & Young, D.M. (2017): “If chemists don’t do it, who is going to?” Peer-driven occupational change and the emergence of green chemistry.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 62 (3), 524–560.
  • Jones, C. (2001): “Co-evolution of entrepreneurial careers, institutional rules and competitive dynamics in American film, 1895–1920.” Organization Studies, 22 (6), 911–944.
  • Jones, C., & Dunn, M.B. (2007): “Careers and institutions: The centrality of careers to organizational studies.” In: H.P. Gunz & M. Peiperl (eds.): Handbook of Career Studies. London: SAGE Publications, 437–450.
  • Jones, C., Maoret, M., Massa, F.G., & Svejenova, S. (2012): “Rebels with a cause: Formation, contestation, and expansion of the de novo category ‘modern architecture’, 1870–1975.” Organization Science, 23 (6), 1523–1545.
  • Nigam, A., & Dokko, G. (2019): “Career resourcing and the process of professional emergence.” Academy of Management Journal, 62 (4), 1052–1084.
  • Peiperl, M., Arthur, M., & Anand, N. (2002): Career Creativity: Explorations in the Remaking of Work. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Petriglieri, G., Petriglieri, J.L., & Wood, J.D. (2018): “Fast tracks and inner journeys: Crafting portable selves for contemporary careers.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 63 (3), 479–525.
  • Rivera, L.A. (2016): Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Stovel, K., Savage, M., & Bearman, P. (1996): “Ascription into achievement: Models of career systems at Lloyds Bank, 1890–1970.” American Journal of Sociology, 102 (2), 358–399.
  • Tams, S., & Arthur, M.B. (2010): “New directions for boundaryless careers: Agency and interdependence in a changing world.” Journal of Organizational Behavior, 31 (5), 629–646.
  • Wickert, C., & de Bakker, F.G. (2018): “Pitching for social change: Toward a relational approach to selling and buying social issues.” Academy of Management Discoveries, 4 (1), 50–73.
Amit Nigam is Professor of Management at Bayes Business School, City, University of London, UK. He examines the roles of interpretation, communication, and conflict within and across occupations and professions during organizational and institutional change.
Gina Dokko is a Professor at the University of California, Davis, USA. Her research focuses on the consequences of job mobility and careers for individuals and organizations, including its effects on innovation, learning, performance, and social capital.
Candace Jones is the Chair of Global Creative Enterprise at the University of Edinburgh, UK. Her research focuses on institutional change and institutional logics in cultural systems of professions and creative industries. Candy examines relational patterns among symbolic systems, material practices and producers-audiences using network analysis to gain insight into how new ideas are created and institutionalized.