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The space of authoring in constructing student and graduate career identities

Christie, Fiona and Rattenbury, james and Creaby, Fiona (2020) The space of authoring in constructing student and graduate career identities. In: Social theory and the politics of higher education: critical perspectives on institutional research. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781350141551

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Abstract

This chapter illustrates the application of Figured Worlds theory (Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, & Cain, 1998) in exploring student and graduate identities. It argues that Figured Worlds offers a novel lens to explore contemporary identity in a context in which a competitive graduate labour market puts added pressure on individuals’ sense of who they are and want to become. Figured Worlds is a sociocultural theory that seeks to create a model for analysis and interpretation of social worlds that engages with how individuals and collectives respond to their cultural and material circumstances. Although the theory has been used within the social sciences for nearly twenty years, it has had limited reach amongst researchers of higher education. In their seminal book, Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds, Holland et al. (1998) address a central paradox that humans are products of context and yet producers of remarkable improvisation. Predominantly, they hybridise Bakhtinian, Bourdieusian and Vygotskian ideas to argue for a social perspective that frames identity as a dialogical performance of multiple selves, continually developed through social engagement. We argue that the theory’s blend of the traditions of Soviet philosophy and social psychology, American empirical anthropology and French sociology offers a valuable lens for analysis of individual subjectivities in contemporary contexts in which neoliberal ideas appear to have hegemonic influence over society, the economy as well as individual psychology. Such hybrid theory can serve to make us pause and reflect upon how we make sense of and resist social worlds, in which engines of control exist in dispersed ways. Notably some of Holland and her co-authors’ writing is being recently re-published, which is an indicator of its renewed appeal (Holland and Lave, 2019).

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