The temptation is great, and ideas offered by new science concept
sound appealing and catchy. As will be indicated later, certain ideas
originating from the new science can support an understanding of
career phenomena, but to a limited extent (mostly as metaphors). In
addition, the success of a few such as Katz and Kahn (1978) with their
open system theory which originated in thermodynamics, or Lewin’s
(1951) Field Theory, which originated in physics, can raise hopes for a
replication of such success.
IN WHAT WAYS CAN THE NEW SCIENCE BE USEFUL?
The use of metaphors in many fields of study has been proven a solid
and very fruitful idea for theory development. Metaphor is « the application of a name or a descriptive term or phrase to an object or action
to which it is imaginatively but not literally applicable (e.g., a glaring
error) » (The Concise Oxford Dictionary, 1990).
The use of metaphors in the study of organizations has contributed to
the development of organizational as well as many other types of theory. The advantage of using metaphors in understanding organizations
has been well demonstrated by Morgan (1980, 1993, 1997) in his conceptual framework. Metaphors transposed from more established sciences for use within the science of management can be advantageous, in the sense that the analogy can enhance the understanding
of relevant phenomena. « Metaphor facilitates change by making the
strange familiar, but in that very process it deepens the meaning or values of the organization by giving them expression in novel situations »
(Pondy, 1983: 164).
The new science can definitely offer new and relevant metaphors to
add to our understanding of the phenomena of careers. Will it be sufficient to develop new career theory? The answer, I argue, is negative.
Bird et al. partially admit this when saying: « In many cases there is little choice: many physical sciences deal with phenomena which simply
cannot be identified at the social level of analysis, so the only possible
contribution is metaphorical » (2002: 6-7). But they also say: « On the
other hand Wheatley’s treatment of “new science” includes objects that
are emergent phenomena, such as skill sets, unfolding relationships,
and adaptions to the work environment. Here it is possible to conceive
of frameworks, which might move beyond the realm of metaphor, and,
possibly, supply models which themselves could form the basis of useful careers theory » (2002: 7).
To add to the argument for this Devil’s Advocate is the claim that the
nature of careers is changing as a result of the widespread change
happening in the larger socio-economic systems of which careers are
an integral part. Environmental and economic changes (e.g., globalization) have a strong impact on people’s lives. Subsequently new
types of career conceptual framework and career systems emerged:
career resilience (Waterman, Waterman, and Collard 1994), the
boundaryless career (Arthur 1994; Arthur and Rousseau, 1996), the
post-corporate career (Peiperl and Baruch, 1997) and the protean
career (Hall, 1996; Hall and Moss 1998). These concurrent career
concepts are in fact interrelated, and all trying to bridge the gap
between the traditional career theories, which fit well with former
organizational frameworks, and contemporary developments of a
competitive, global business environment, frequent redundancies,
and high individualization of values. The common denominator for
these concepts is the need for a theory that will accommodate current
phenomena, such as the flexible nature of organizational and individual life.
All of these are manifested by the “new psychological contract”, another contemporary concept (Rousseau, 1995, 1996). Even this concept
emerged following a long line of scholarly development of the concept
of psychological contract. The idea of the “psychological contract” was
first put forward by Levinson, Price, Munden, Mandl, and Solley
(1962), and developed later by Kotter and others, (Kotter 1973; Schein
1980; Nicholson and Johns, 1985) before moving on to the “new” psychological contract (Robinson, Kraatz, and Rousseau 1994;
Rousseau, 1995, 1996).
This indicates, perhaps, that we should better look for career theory
within the socio-psychology paradigms rather than to look for salvation
in the “glossy” area of so-called new science.