Magical thinking as occupational opportunities contract 

I just came across this sentence by Mark Granovetter on loc 721 of Ross Perlin’s Intern Nation:

“There may be just enough cases around that people know about to give people encouragement, but not enough to really make it likely that that’s going to happen for any particular person.”

This is another way of talking about ‘publicising successful outliers to propagate the illusion’.

I’m increasingly interested in the disjunct between structure and culture that characterises occupational trajectories: as opportunities are objectively contracting, a cultural of wishful thinking emerges that focuses on a minute percentage of cases – “I realise it’s difficult but I’m sure I’ll be different” – something which many employers and entrepreneurs are happy to encourage out of sheer self-interest.

Later on in the book, the author contrasts the older apprentice system with internships. The former was suited to a technologically stable environment in which occupational opportunities persisted intergenerationally. In contrast, internships proliferate at a time of occupational flux, creating the perception of offering a structured way of navigating change. From loc 1234:

Nonetheless, says Jacoby of internships, “We don’t really grapple with what you have to master to move to the next level effectively … They create the sense of an open architecture where people feel like they can move into fields where they don’t have a lot of background … but I think that’s going to be more sleight-of-hand than reality.” Through high school and college, everything is made to seem possible, and internships extend the fantasy, until it comes time to land a stable, comfortable, decently paid job.

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