Creating Oneself through Narratives: Agency in first-semester university students’ career plans

Anne Huhtala

university students, identity, agency, Narratives, Career plans


In this paper I examine expressions of agency in autobiographical narratives by Finnish speaking university students of Swedish. Students who write about themselves, their decisions and their career plans are simultaneously involved in (re)constructing their identities. The narratives often include references to “communities of practice” (Lave & Wenger 1991; Wenger 1998) that the students consider as significant, and whose membership they see as something worth dreaming of. These kinds of first-person stories can be regarded as important as far as identity formation is concerned (Sfard & Prusak 2005). The narratives can help in building a bridge between the narrator’s past, the present and the future. While expressing continuity and stability, the narratives also allow and even welcome both serendipity and agency (Plunkett 2001). In this paper, agency and identity are seen as complex, temporal and contextual phenomena that are inextricably linked with each other. My focus is on the following two questions: How do narratives written by first-semester university students express agency as these students tell about their career plans? And secondly: How do narratives articulating explicit career plans differ from narratives expressing very vague or no professional plans at all? The results show e.g. that all these narratives contain several instances of agentive action and conscious planning. However, in texts conveying vague or unclear career plans, agency is often hidden or covered by expressions emphasizing the unforeseen and serendipitous.

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Apples - Journal of Applied Language Studies