Date of Submission



This thesis explored the question “How do chance and uncertainty influence the career development of adults?” Its purpose was twofold:

To discover patterns of experience and career-related behaviour among adults in the Australian workforce; and

To explore the potential of the Chaos Theory of Careers (Pryor & Bright, 2011) as a theoretical construct appropriate to the research, education and counselling needs of Australian young people and workers; and, by implication, the needs of international communities facing similar challenges.

The thesis begins with a literature review which positions the Chaos Theory of Careers as providing an innovative description of the processes involved in a person's career development. Traditional theory about career development emphasised a match and fit approach to describing career guidance needs with little reference to the relevance of changes in a career plan. The distinctive feature of the Chaos Theory of Careers is its capacity to explain the rapid rate of change evident in modern society, and its inclusion of change, chance and unpredictability as part of a holistic description of processes influencing a person’s career development. This enables the Chaos Theory of Careers to incorporate viable elements of existing career theories into a realistic analysis of contemporary circumstances.

The research conducted six studies using a mixed methods approach. The Study One survey explored several dimensions of the research topic and identified subjects suitable for in depth interviews. Study Two was a qualitative study of 19 one-to-one interviews. This was followed by three further survey studies. The final study involved a Focus Group including several of the participants from the Study Two interviews.

Several findings of interest emerged from the research. There may be a greater frequency of chance events affecting career development than previously identified in the literature. There appears to be a proportion of the population blind to the existence of chance events affecting career development. If this possibility is supported in further research, the incidence of chance event may well be greater than the commonly reported 60% figure.

Individuals in the research exhibited significant variability of interpretation of what constitutes a chance event. They also showed variability in their categorization of chance events.

Coding analysis within the qualitative research enabled the functioning of the individual in the midst of uncertainty to be described in detail not previously available in the literature. It appears that individuals adopt a satisfication approach guided by their values and intuition to determine a course of action in the midst of uncertainty. This provides them with a short-term plan with a degree of predictability where previously no predictability was available.

The research also identified the difficulty of using precise language when investigating issues involving complexity, and noted the use of fuzzy concepts in related disciplines exploring aspects of complexity.

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


318 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Faculty of Education