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Reinventing the MBA as a rite of passage for a boundaryless era

Elisabeth Kelan (King's College London, London, UK)
Rachel Dunkley Jones (Freelance researcher and consultant, London, UK)

Career Development International

ISSN: 1362-0436

Article publication date: 30 October 2009




This paper aims to explore whether the rite of passage is still a useful model with which to conceptualise the MBA in the era of the boundaryless career.


The paper examines the formative experiences of full‐time MBA students at an elite business school, using in‐depth qualitative interviews. Through a discourse analysis, the paper shows how MBA students draw on concepts resembling the anthropological model of the rite of passage when making sense of their experience.


The resources MBA students have available to talk about their MBA experience mirror the three‐step rite of passage model. The first step involves separation from a previous career, either because of limited opportunities for advancement or in order to explore alternative career paths. In the transition or liminoid stage, identities are in flux and a strong sense of community is developed among the students and they play with different identities. In the third stage, the incorporation, students reflect on the value of the MBA for their future career.


The paper shows how the MBA is still seen as a rite of passage at a time when careers are becoming boundaryless. Within this more fluid context, the rite in itself is seen as enhancing the individual's brand value and confidence, enabling them to negotiate the challenges of managing a boundaryless career.



Kelan, E. and Dunkley Jones, R. (2009), "Reinventing the MBA as a rite of passage for a boundaryless era", Career Development International, Vol. 14 No. 6, pp. 547-569.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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