Archive for July, 2011
Multi-theoretical rather than meta-theoretical
I am highly wary of people who take only one theoretical perspective.
No matter how rich and multi-dimensional your theory is, no matter how many other theories it incorporates and subsumes, it’s still only a theory. It will never account for all of the variety, complexity and general messiness of real live people in real live environments.
The real problem with only taking one theoretical perspective is that you become subject to the Law of the Instrument (or Maslow’s hammer).
Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding. (Abraham Kaplan)
It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail. (Abraham Maslow)
If you only have one theoretical perspective, you only have one set of concepts by which you interpret a client’s situation. Because of confirmation bias, you will tend to look for things that fit in with those concepts and you may fail to notice things which don’t fit.
It is tempting to force the facts to fit the concepts and limit what you notice to things that you can describe easily in your frame of reference.
That’s why I shy away from big theories which seek to do everything and try to collect lots of simpler theories that look at career decisions from very different angles. Phil McCash from Warwick University has described this as ‘theoretical triangulation‘.
So, if you’re just venturing out into the world of career theory, which theories should you start with? Here are my suggestions, with no sound scientific basis, just my personal preferences.
A recent paper by G. Arulmani (2011) expands on some of the cultural concepts that underlie this approach to careers work. I have my reservations about the research presented in the paper which claims to demonstrate that grounding career education in a culturally relevant framework is more effective than applying more universalist approaches.
This may well be true, but it’s really hard to tell from the details give of the differences between the two approaches used in the research whether the greater effectiveness is down to the cultural relevance or just down to providing a more coherent conceptual framework for the career development activities.
Aside from these concerns about the research methods, I do find the concepts derived from Asian spiritual traditions very thought provoking, especially when comparing them to equivalent concepts from Western career development theory.
Apologies in advance for my over-simplification of these concepts.
I’ve been having some very interesting conversations lately on LinkedIn groups.
In one discussion, a Canadian career service manager described how his team had been increasingly using the term ‘career literacy’ to describe what they were trying to develop in their students. He asked what we thought of the term.
Part of me really likes the idea of literacy as a set of skills that enables you to interact with information. According to the UNESCO definition, literacy involves “a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society“. That fits rather well with the aims of a careers service.
My reservation with the term is that, in a university setting, literacy could be interpreted as rather a basic level of learning. By the time students have reached university, they should have gone beyond literacy and be operating in the realm of analysis and critical thinking. Would it have face value with the academic community?
So, what other terms could we use and what would they imply? Can we come up with something which appeals to those who are looking at immediate solutions as well as giving a strong message about developing an ability to deal with issues over the entire course of your career?
This kicked the random word generator in my brain into overdrive and I tried to come up with a range of phrases to describe what we are trying to nurture in our clients.
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Careers - in Theory is a blog from The Careers Group, University of London.
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