The Career-O-Gram: A Postmodern Career Intervention.

Author:Thorngren, Jill M.
Position:Effective Techniques

The authors examine the usefulness of postmodernism in career counseling. Specifically, a case is made for broadening career counseling theories and techniques to feature the contextual influences inherent in each individual's unique career history. A career intervention, titled the Career-O-Gram, is introduced as a tool for exploring contextual influences on career development. A case study is presented to demonstrate the application of the Career-O-Gram.

Career development theorists focus on the plethora of developmental, psychodynamic, interpersonal, and sociological influences that affect individual career development. Inextricably combined with these influences are individual personalities, skills, interests, values, and knowledge of occupations. Developmental, interpersonal, social, and intrapersonal influences all combine in career exploration and decision making. Given the magnitude of interest in career development influences articulated from various theoretical viewpoints, it seems logical to deduce that exploring these influences with clients would be beneficial.

Examining multiple influences is a cornerstone concept of postmodern philosophy, which is currently affecting the counseling profession, in general, and, to a lesser degree, the field of career counseling (McNamee & Gergen, 1995; Sexton & Griffin, 1997). Postmodernism, also referred to as post-positivist or constructivist thought, emphasizes plurality of perspectives, contextual impacts, social constructions of reality, and the importance of the meaning individuals give to their experiences. From a postmodern perspective, theories (including career development theories) are not built on facts, but rather facts are derived from theory (Hayes & Oppenheim, 1997).

Proponents of postmodern career interventions (Peavy, 1997; Savickas, 1993) focus on exploring the meaning clients place on their careers. The emphasis here is on the contextual factors that influence clients' career development. Career interventions that are based in modern philosophy focus on identifying specific traits of individuals and then placing those individuals in corresponding career categories. Thus, modernists search for "fit," and postmodernists search for "meaning" in helping clients articulate their career goals.

Modern thought predominated in an era when an individual might expect to hold few jobs over his or her life span, and work was a thing to be "done"; it had little to do with the measure of personal worth (Kennedy, 1998). Postmodernism is alive in an era of fast-paced change in which career decisions take on personal meanings that are related to self-esteem, and the concept of career is a lifelong and ever-changing process (Kennedy, 1998).

In the following sections of this article, we outline the views of researchers and counselors in the career development field who propose a shift toward postmodern thinking in career counseling. We conclude with a description of a tool designed to assess career development from a postmodern perspective. A case study demonstrates the perceived efficacy of this approach.

Postmodernism and Career Counseling

Richardson (1993) is a proponent of changing the direction of career development to encompass a more postmodern or social constructionist epistemology. She proposed expanding career development theories and decision-making models to include the acknowledgment of multiple contextual influences and subjective meanings that clients give to their choices of work or career. The concept of work includes activities both inside and outside the occupational structure that contribute to human development. Richardson (1993) noted, "If inquiry is limited to work in jobs and occupations, what might be known about people in the multiple and interacting contexts or environments of their lives is severely truncated" (p. 428). The concept of work also moves away from a focus on middleclass individuals who are typically engaged in what are considered "careers" (Savickas, 1993).

Richardson's (1993) proposal also promoted the inclusion of a social constructionist epistemological perspective for career development. From this position, there is no single reality "out there" or objectively knowable, but it is recognized "that what people see before them is affected by who they are, and what they value, as well as by their biases, theoretical predilections, and social locations" (Richardson, p. 428). Reality is, thus, socially created through the conversations that people have with one another and the agreed-upon meanings that are determined through interactions (Berger & Luckman, 1966). This stance does not champion relativistic solipsism but does encourage the exploration of what is true for each individual and the meaning that is attached to life experiences and choices. Inherent in this approach is the acknowledgment that some people wield more power than others and are, thus, more influential in the creation of what is accepted as reality. When applied to career development or couns eling, a social constructionist perspective would explore the relative amount of power individuals have in making career choices. The cultural, social, political, and economic contexts that surround career choices would also be key components of counseling from this stance.

Savickas (1993) summarized and expanded on Richardson's (1993) proposal. He emphasized the need for professionals in career development fields to transition from a psychology of careers to a social analysis of work. In this era of fading hierarchical bureaucracies, individuals can no longer build their lives around one stable career. Rather, Richardson and Savickas advocated exploring client's values in the "real" world, which is ever changing.

Savickas (1993) advocated decentering from self to context and emphasizing practical intelligence for everyday activities of ordinary life (Kvale, 1992). He also applied the postmodern concepts of moving from objective truth to perspective reality and moving from general principles to useful practices to the field of vocational psychology. He urged professionals in the field to realize that knowledge is relational and that theory can be situated in a perspectivist, social constructionist framework without giving way to complete relativism. He further propagated that both modern (quantitative) and postmodern (qualitative) approaches to research could advance knowledge and understanding of career development and that usefulness of knowledge should guide inquiry. It seems that both Savickas and Richardson believe that the field of career development would benefit from postmodern methods of inquiry and theory development that incorporate the context and multiple influences of an individual's career or work histor y.

This point of view was further advanced by Peavy (1997). He asserted that most models of career development and counseling are still based on logical positivism even though this concept as a viable philosophical position has been "dead" since the 1970s (p. 123). He called for subsequent revisions in the practice of career counseling to reflect the more relevant postmodern or postpositivist philosophy. Specifically, he placed his ideas for revision in a constructivist perspective that acknowledged the multiplicity of realities and contextual influences on career development. Peavy cited Giddens (1991), who observed that the influences of postindustrial society, including globalization, de-skilling, "commodification," rapidly changing market conditions, and corporatism, have produced workplaces that are rapidly changing, unpredictable, and even risky to virtually all people who work. It is, thus, necessary to spur changes in career counseling as well.

Peavy (1997) urged career theorists and counselors to recognize that clients have "lifecareer" histories that are constructed by the individual out of an ongoing...

To continue reading