A question of agency

applying Sen's theory of human capability to the concept of secondary school student career 'choice'

Natal'ya Galliott*, Linda J. Graham

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    12 Citations (Scopus)


    In this paper, we seek to operationalize Amartya Sen's concept of human capability to guide a scholarly investigation of student career choice capability. We begin by outlining factors affecting youth labour markets in Australia; a prosperous country that is affected by a 'two-speed' national economy. We then examine recent government initiatives that have been designed to combat youth unemployment and cyclical disadvantage by enhancing the aspirations and career knowledge of secondary school students. We argue that these policy measures are based on four assumptions: first, that career choice capability is a problem of individual agency; second, that the dissemination of career information can empower students to act as 'consumers' in an unequal job market; third, that agency is simply a question of will; and finally, that school education and career advice - as a means to freedom in the space of career development - is of equal quality, distribution and value to an increasingly diverse range of upper secondary school students. The paper concludes by outlining a conceptual framework capable of informing an empirical research project that aims to test these assumptions by measuring and comparing differences between groups in the range of freedom to achieve and, therefore, to choose.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)270-284
    Number of pages15
    JournalInternational Journal of Research and Method in Education
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


    • Amartya Sen
    • capabilities
    • agency
    • career education and development
    • post-school transitions

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