Social Justice and Career Development: Views and Experiences of Australian Career Development Practitioners

By McMahon, Mary; Arthur, Nancy et al. | Australian Journal of Career Development, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Social Justice and Career Development: Views and Experiences of Australian Career Development Practitioners


McMahon, Mary, Arthur, Nancy, Collins, Sandra, Australian Journal of Career Development


Career development practice had its origins in social justice reform over 100 years ago. A social justice perspective requires practitioners to examine the environmental context of their work, including the social, economic and political systems that influence people's career development. Achieving socially just outcomes for clients may necessitate intervention in these systems. While social justice is receiving a resurgence of interest in the literature, little is known about career development practitioners' attitudes towards and knowledge of socially just practice. The present paper examines the views and experiences of Australian career development practitioners on social justice. Data was collected by means of an online survey. Participants offered descriptions of their understanding of social justice and also examples of critical incidents in which they had attempted social justice interventions. Findings related to how Australian career development practitioners describe and operationalise social justice in their work are presented, as well as recommendations for future research.

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Several authors have contended that career development could develop a vision for the future by returning to its foundational roots in social justice (Arthur, 2005; Arthur, 2008; Hartung & Blustein, 2002; Toporek & Chope, 2006). Emanating out of the social reform movements of the early 1900s, career development, or vocational guidance as it was then known, was viewed as a means of assisting individuals to reach their potential. However, despite its fundamental place in career development, social justice has not always been visible or explicit in theory or in practice (Gummere, 1988), and it has been suggested that attending to social justice issues poses the next challenge for theory and for practice (Hartung & Blustein, 2002). While social justice has been variously described, socially just practice may be considered as 'actions that contribute to the advancement of society and advocate for equal access to resources for the marginalized or less fortunate individuals in society' (O'Brien, 2001, p. 66).

The present paper examines the views and experiences of Australian career development practitioners on social justice. Specifically, it discusses how Australian career development practitioners describe and operationalise social justice in their work. Findings from the Australian sample of a comparative cross-national study of career development practitioners from Canada and Australia will be presented. Data was collected by means of an online survey that invited participants to offer their own definitions of social justice and also critical incident scenarios in which they had attempted social justice interventions. The perspectives of Australian career development practitioners regarding social justice, their current practices, and perceived barriers for implementing social justice interventions will be discussed.

FOCUSING ON SOCIAL JUSTICE IN CAREER DEVELOPMENT

For much of its history, career development's predominant focus has been on individuals and providing remedial interventions. More recently however, there has been greater political awareness of the value of career development to society and its position as an interface between individual needs and political and societal needs (e.g., OECD, 2003). While this growing awareness could potentially strengthen career development's position in society, several authors have cautioned about the socio-political location of career development and the need to balance the support of individuals and its wider social responsibilities (e.g., Blustein, 2006; Irving & Malik, 2005; Nicholas, Naidoo, & Pretorius, 2006; Richardson, 2000). For example, some authors (e.g., Blustein, 2006; Richardson, 1993, 2000) have advocated for a refocusing of career theory on work of all kinds rather than the notion of career.

Social justice interventions require career development practitioners to look beyond presenting issues, symptoms and concerns and examine how they may be understood in a broader context (e. …

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