On School-to-Work Transition, Career Development Theories, and Cultural Validity

Article excerpt

The authors respond to Duane Brown's (2000) claims about the deficiencies of person-environment, social learning, developmental, and social cognitive theories as templates for studying and promoting the work transition of racial/ethnic minority students. They (a) suggest that the degree to which theories are generalizable across cultures and subcultures is an empirical question, not a matter to be decided by fiat; (b) counsel against the assumption that cultures exert uniform effects on the career behavior of their members; (c) consider certain mischaracterizations of the career theories; and (d) entertain the possibility that work transition may be studied from the perspective of both generic and culture-specific career theories.

In his reaction to the June 1999 special issue of The Career Development Quarterly on school-to-work (STW) transition, Duane Brown (2000) criticizes our "failure . . . to consider in their discussions the issues involved in facilitating the [school-to-work-transition] of cultural minorities" (p. 370). He charges that the career development theories applied to aid understanding of the STW process are, as a group, culturally insensitive. Other writers have also recently raised questions about the extent to which career theories are "culturally valid" and have considered ways in which they might be "culturally enriched" (e.g., Hartung, 1999). In this rejoinder, we consider Brown's criticisms, highlighting what we see as their merits and shortcomings. We also address some larger issues, raised by Brown's comments, that we believe have profound implications for career development inquiry.

The special journal issue (Lent & Worthington, 1999) contained articles applying person-environment, social learning, developmental, and social cognitive career theories to the STW transition process. The editor of The Career Development Quarterly, Spencer Niles, invited us, as guest editors of the special issue, to respond to Brown's commentary. In constructing our response, we engaged in much reflection and debate among ourselves and, in fairness, also tried to draw on the perspectives of the other authors who had contributed major articles to the special journal issue. We thank these colleagues for their input and accept responsibility for any deficiencies in our characterization of their theoretical perspectives.

CULTURAL VALIDITY IS A COMPLEX AND EMPIRICAL QUESTION

Brown (2000) asks, "Are career development theories culturally sensitive?" (p. 371). This is an important question, and one that has been addressed by many scholars over the past decade (e.g., Arbona, 1996; M. T. Brown, 1995; Cheatham, 1990; Fitzgerald & Betz, 1994; Fouad & Bingham, 1995; Hartung, 1999; Leong & Brown, 1995; Leong & Serafica, 1995; Osipow & Littlejohn, 1995). The debate as to the ultimate cultural validity of career theories is not likely to be put to rest soon. However, in our view, Brown's critique does not convey the complexity and nuances of this debate.

Although space considerations preclude a comprehensive review of this topic, it may be useful to consider some of the key perspectives that have been offered. Briefly, some authors have cited factors (e.g., racial discrimination, economic and labor forces, differential opportunities) that are seen as limiting the applicability of career theories to particular racial/ethnic groups, such as African Americans (e.g., Cheatham, 1990). Others have suggested that career theories have, historically, been based on generic assumptions that tend to ignore sociocultural realities experienced by minority group members (Leong & M. T. Brown, 1995). Some articulate the need for a comprehensive multicultural theory of career development (Osipow & Littlejohn,1995). Others hold that the cross-cultural applicability of career theories may turn on issues such as social class, level of academic achievement, educational development, and student or worker role salience, rather than on race or ethnicity per se (Arbona, 1996). …