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Integrating agency and structure in employability: Bourdieu's theory of practice
Journal of Vocational Behavior  (IF6.065),  Pub Date : 2021-04-18, DOI: 10.1016/j.jvb.2021.103579
Jasper Delva, Anneleen Forrier, Nele De Cuyper

Employability research has long been and still is criticised for being overly agentic. Employability is seen as a personal asset tied to the individual. Recently, scholars have called for a more structure-sensitive understanding of employability. In response, studies have probed whether employability is shaped by agency and/or structure, mainly along a substantialist perspective in which agents and structure are distinct entities separately impacting employability. In this paper, we aim to arrive at a more integrative and relational understanding of agency and structure in employability research. Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu's theory of practice, our theoretical integration of agency and structure in employability has two implications. First, employability is always shaped in a structured context: the context shapes what is needed to be employable, the do's and don'ts to achieve this and what kind of opportunities individual actors can expect, while at the same time the actors construct the context and its rules. Second, employability is in relation to others: the individual actor competes with other individual actors for employment opportunities, for which still other individual or collective actors act as gatekeepers. Together, this relational perspective on employability questions the agentic idea of employability as a personal asset and adds to the substantialist perspective. These insights are used to formulate propositions for future research.