Perspectives on Ecological Context, Social Policy, and Career Guidance

Article excerpt

Individual behavior, career guidance theory and practice, and public policy are interdependent, and they are interactive with the characteristics of the ecological context. Each of these constructs is examined.

Examination of the interdependence between the ecological context, which shapes the conditions that develop individual self-identity, the nature of the occupational structure, the requirements for access to jobs, and who is likely to obtain what types of work; individual career behavior; social policy; and career guidance theory and practice are issues of relatively recent concern in the United States, although other nations, such as Sweden, Denmark, and the United Kingdom, have been concerned with these issues for some time. At the least, such deliberations affirm the reality that neither individual career development nor career theory and practice occur in isolation from the economic, social, and political contexts in which they are located.

The professional literature can and does examine the four emphases of primary concern here-context, individual behavior, policy, career guidance theory and practice-independently. The larger point, that to understand each of them it is also important to understand how they are interactive, is a growing challenge. For example, studying the ecological context would be irrelevant if it did not shape and affect individual behavior and the institutions or processes that mediate such behavior. But, diverse theorists have articulated the interaction of context and behavior. As a result, counseling scholars and practitioners have come to understand that individual behavior cannot be explained if it is treated as though it occurred independent of the contexts which provide or limit opportunities, achievement images, personal constructs, freedom of choice, or other factors that influence individual or collective identity and the behavior that results. One can make similar statements about policy and legislation as well as about career development theory and practice. National policy and legislation do not arise independent of the nation's beliefs or values, perspectives on work or role salience (Super, Sverko, & Super, 1995), psychological characteristics (Peabody, 1985), cultural homogeneity or pluralism in the population (Barnlund, 1975; Kleinman, 1988) or the historical traditions from which national values or metaphors have evolved (Reich, 1987).

In a similar fashion, career theory and practice responds to and describes (a) how individual behavior is learned and changed, (b) what strategies or interventions facilitate positive learning about self and opportunities, (c) how one creates healthy environments that provide opportunities for career choice and mobility, and (d) the treatment of persons whose transactions with the environment have been very unfulfilling. These emphases in career theory and practice are also shaped by ecological conditions and by transactions with the larger environment in which they originate and are formed. As a result, theories and practices are culture bound. Whether deliberately or inadvertently, such theories and practices incorporate prevailing cultural traditions and assumptions in the nations where they are formulated, and with more or less fidelity, they respond to the diversity of the characteristics and needs of persons to be served.

To clarify each of the primary constructs used in this article, their interactive characteristics, and their meaning for social policy and career theory and practice, the next sections address the ecological context, individual transactions with the context, career theory and practice, and social policy and legislation.

ECOLOGICAL CONTEXT

As scientists study the ecology, environment, and social context, it has become clear that these variables do not represent a unitary phenom-enon. They consist of political, economic, physical, interpersonal, and cultural components with varying relevance for different subpopulations-children, youth, adults, women and men, people with disabilities, the rich and the poor-at different times in their exploration of, preparation for, transition to, and adjustment to work. …