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post-coded careers

Cloud created by:

Bill Law
1 March 2012

Bill Law
The Career-learning Café

In his account of human motivation Abraham Maslow (1970) sees the drive for  ‘belongingness and love’ as seeking connections with family at home, mates at school or work, neighbours close-by, and welcoming groups.  He sees its opposite as rejecting and rootless.  And it is work-related: getting along with colleagues is a reason for seeking some kinds of work; and being ready to offer help to others is a motive for taking some kinds on.

Nowadays we are more acutely aware of rejection and rootlessness - speaking less of connections, more of disconnection.  Zygmunt Bauman (2000) documents a society experienced as unconnected, uncivil, unpredictable and unsafe.  He remarks that, in such a world...

‘...the idea of career is nebulous - and utterly out of place’.

Mary Douglas (1966, 1970) foresaw much of this.  She sets out a spectrum of ways of coping - at the extremes it can mean clinging to a group, but it extends to opting out of all commitment.  She develops four visualisations of how such drives socially position different people differently.  All four are useful as descriptions of students and clients engaged in career-management issues.  One of the four is attracting a lot of contemporary attention...

  • isolates: are detached from society - excluded from opportunity - not belonging - unable to afford group membership - voiceless - risk averse
  • positioners: are believers in tradition, order and social class - respectful of élites as guides to success - seeing failure as the result of non-compliance
  • individualist: are entrepreneurial, innovative and adaptive-to-change - and, so, competitive and confident - but rootless, so that everything is up for grabs
  • enclaved: are locating themselves with the like-minded - where beliefs and values  are important - and, so, rejecting outsiders - and defending ‘us’ against ‘them’

Allessandra Buonfino usefully summarises Mary Douglas’s work.  She uses it to propose a new frame of reference for understanding all forms of social membership - which would include work-life.  She seeks something less top-down and more about the search for recognition.  She argues for...

making that social world familiar to people

It would mean people can create and access new forms of belonging.  She sees the formation of enclaves as a particularly attractive way of finding acknowledgement.  We might say that finding a like-minded enclave is a way of gaining recognition, finding affirmation and claiming a stake in society.  And that means that what people do about enclaves has parallels with what they do about career - what happens in one will influence what happens in the other.

Mary Douglas takes account of such dynamics of change.  She sees enclaves as becoming important in fractured societies - where both congenial families and demanding hierarchies are weakened.  People then look for others they can trust about what is worth believing, worth having and worth doing.  She sees all of such allegiances as capable of being both protective and aggressive.  We can now see such sharing forming religious, sporting, cultural and consumer allegiances.  However, what few foresaw, but what it is now possible to report, is how the internet has re-shaped things.  On-line life has assembled itself around enclaves, while commercial interests have accessed the niche markets they create, and risks are being recognised for people who rely on their restricted connectedness.  Some of those risks are shown to be for working life.  Mary Douglas’s other groups may well find a place to belong in enclaves - whether on-the-street, on-line or on-the-make.  But, in all three enclaved locations, there are both inhabitants and predators.

Geographer Danny Dorling (2011) documents much of this in terms of maps and locations.  It post-codes opportunities.  In examining what goes on in a locality, he remarks that...

in each location there is both remembering and forgetting

And that process becomes part of each location’s separateness.  In each, members must - then - either start from scratch or call on what the group shares.  Danny Dorling points out that sharing in groups is through narratives.  The career-related analysis of such enclaves might look like the list set out below.   Each has a distinctive collection of ‘who?’, ‘what?’, ‘how?’, ‘when?’, ‘where?’, and ‘why?’ - all story-tellers’ questions, and each prefixing narrative verbs.  To work-up such narratives is to discover how each location can tell more-than-one story.  But it is also to see how the possibilities for each enclave are distinctive of each.

  • social circle: approaching - belonging - contacting - containing - positioning
  • group: belonging - capitalising - evicting - rejecting - separating
  • url: connecting - enclosing - following - navigating - protecting
  • neighbourhood: cleaning - constituting - polluting - protecting - sequestering
  • community: affording - attaching - diversifying - situating - valuing
  • territory: allying - defending - evacuating - invading - occupying

And so the career prospects that come out of each of these stories are various - and variously-fulfilling and -sustainable.  The significant factors are that some narratives enlarge the space that the group occupies, and some reduce it.  It’s all connectedness: but, in the contemporary world, Abraham Maslow’s advocacy brings both expansion and contraction - and evokes both hope and fear.  It depends.

There is no shortage of research showing how career management depends on situation, language and culture.  Much depends on situation because a mix of - for example - no-go areas, derelict spaces, congenial neighbourhoods, feel-good street-markets, gated communities and cosmopolitan contacts both feeds and poisons any sense of who people take themselves to be.  It depends on culture because the habitual - in shared symbols, ceremonies and rituals - forms social attachments and allegiances, and all of this offers a mirror in which belief, value and expectation are reflected.  It depends on language because talk is more than just communication: it frames what it is possible to say about ‘what’s happening?’, ‘what does it mean?’, and ‘what shall we do about it?’ - and people need to know what to say to whom, and how.

Managing such tasks in terms of looking again at one’s enclaves is useful.  It offers a handle on life which is more recognisable than the crude generalisation touted by identity politics: categories like gender, race and social-class obscure too much within-group variation.  Talk of enclaves recognises that ghetto and gentrification sit cheek-by-jowl, and faces up to what can be undeclared hostility in village life.  It reframes, on a human scale, the ground for exchange and movement between strangers and competitors, and - where they are entrenched - enemies.  All sides of all such encounters need to know each other - usually more than they realise.  Talks of enclaves justifies Allessandra Buonfino’s hope for the creation of new forms of belonging.  Such agency might even rediscover  love in more of its many senses.  Can we guess that Abraham Maslow would nod agreement?

The importance of being able to manage this process is now supported by our understanding of genetics (Pagel, 2012).  That research shows that human survival depends on our ability to learn how to belong to a group.  It’s easier for gorillas, who can move from one group to another instinctively equipped to behave appropriately.  But for you and me it’s different.  Moving from one enclave to another takes adjustment time - to appreciate what's-what, and to see how they are best managed.  It’s true that we share our evolutionary relative’s capacity to ‘just do it!’ - and there are times when instinctive impulse works well for us.  But our split-level brain also gives us the capacity to slow down and take account of things - before we do anything.  And that proves usually to be the more reliable guardian of our chances in life. 

The idea of enclaves has not featured much in conventional careers-work thinking.  Most of the considerations that we put in front of students and clients are focused more on individual attributes than shared memberships.  There is an argument here for broadening that thinking along lines extended by Zygmunt Bauman, Mary Douglas and Danny Dorling.  I wonder if innovation in...

making that social world familiar to people

...might usefully find our most congenial colleagues among geographers who understand location, literates who understand language, and dramatists who understand narrative.



Zygmunt Bauman (2000).  Liquid Modernity. London: Polity

Danny Dorling (2011).  So You Think that You Know Britain.  London: Constable

Mary Douglas (1966).  Purity and Danger – An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo.  London: Routledge Classics

Mary Douglas (1970).  Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology. London: Barrie & Rockliff

Abraham Maslow (1970).  Motivation and Personality. London: Harper and Row

Mark Pagel (2012).   Wired for Culture - The Natural History Human Cooperation. London: Allen Lane.

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