Bill Law is a bit of a guru when it comes to careers theory — he developed the DOTS framework which is used frequently in careers education. He even has his own website www.hihohiho.com and twitter following. He constantly argues for a more radical, activist perspective on careers guidance and education, embracing complexity and reforming careers to also consider life-role related learning. More recently he’s done some work on storyboarding as David has mentioned in his earlier post.
But going back to the classics — in 1981, Law introduced his Community Interaction Theory. He suggested that some of the most influential factors in career choice relate to events which occur in the context of ‘community interaction’ between the individual and the social groups of which she or he is a member. If theories such as Circumscription and Compromise talk about the impact of society pressures on our decision making process, Community Interaction focuses on some of the mechanisms by which this takes place.
Law identified five main modes in which this influence occurs:
- Expectations — pressures to follow particular paths based on what is considered acceptable by family or community groups
- Feedback — messages that individuals received about their strengths and weaknesses, and their suitability for particular roles
- Support — reinforcement of aspirations and assistance in developing appropriate skills and strategies
- Modelling — the availability of influential examples and the extent of identification with others when thinking about work
- Information — opportunities to find out about options and the extent to which data is filtered by the norms of the social group
These five forms of influence can come from many sources, such as parents, family, peers, ethnic groups and teachers. Of course, these influences could be positive or negative, enabling or hampering people in their career choices. Law suggested that exploring these within a guidance session could help both the adviser and the client to understand the external factors that might have influenced or limited thoughts about careers. It also gives careers services a role in building and providing alternative communities which might provide positive interactions, counteracting past negative influences and opening new ways of thinking.
Looking at this theory, it has a similar theme to more recent theories based on the idea of narratives. Peoples’ career awareness is shaped around their experiences and they tell stories to themselves and other people in order to understand themselves and their situation. The communities that people belong to will influence the way they tell their career stories and so may affect their understanding of what a career might be to them personally.
People will generally stick to their own ‘comfort zone’ of familiar ways of thinking when exploring their career options. Looking at their story from another angle or introducing new influences requires effort and is unlikely to happen without prompting.
Focusing on this idea when starting to explore clients influences helps me to suspend my own prejudices and better understand how my clients reasoning regarding their career has been formed.
- How often do you encourage clients to explore the background influences on their career thinking?
- How much of the work of your careers service is based on providing new community interactions rather than just providing information and advice?
- Do you think community interaction really is the main factor in your clients career choice or has globalisation, the internet and other readily available research tools made community less of an issue? Maybe these tools have just increased what ‘community’ is?
- Within your practice, how do clients respond to the idea that they could be limited by their community? Does this bring up a whole lot of personal issues that maybe we, as careers advisers, aren’t qualified to deal with?
- Law, B. (1981) Community interaction: a mid-range focus for theories of career development in young adults, reproduced in Dryden, W. & Watts, A.G. (Eds) Guidance and Counselling in Britain: A 20-Year Perspective, Cambridge, Hobsons Publishing, pp.211-230.
- Law, B. (2009) Community Interaction and Its Importance for Contemporary Careers-Work. The Career Learning Network.
- Who has influenced your thinking? A collection of questions based on the influence modes of Community Interaction theory.