Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Choosing a Vocation at 100: Time, Change, and Context

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Choosing a Vocation at 100: Time, Change, and Context

Article excerpt

Publication of Choosing a Vocation in 1909 has earned Frank Parsons (1854-1908) the distinction of being the founder of the vocational guidance movement in 20th century America. Such designations, often deserving, risk taking events, people, and the movements they endorse out of context, thus reducing their meaning and impact. In this article, the author locates Parsons and the vocational guidance movement in the context of American history. Doing so elucidates a deeper meaning of the origins of modern vocational guidance.

The new millennium has brought to the counseling profession a surge of interest in social justice themes. Ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and age, as these issues relate to political and economic power, have become common topics in counseling theory and practice. A social justice agenda is not new to the counseling profession, yet what may be new to many is that one of the earliest social justice agendas in 20th century America was originally found in the vocational guidance movement.

One hundred years ago, in 1909, the slim blue volume Choosing a Vocation was published (posthumously) by Frank Parsons. The book is legend and has earned Parsons a place of distinction as the founder of vocational guidance in America. The decision by Mark Pope and Mark Savickas to devote a special section of The Career Development Quarterly to this anniversary is a welcome one. The 100th Anniversary of Vocational Guidance offers a number of opportunities. It provides a chance to recognize those who put vision into reality and animated the vocational guidance movement, it allows for consideration of the larger social factors that provided the soil from which the movement grew, and it offers perspectives on where the profession might be headed.

All too often anniversaries and other celebratory events get funneled into a narrowly defined set of actors and dates that are devoid of a larger context. It is an error in historical analysis that is referred to as internalist history; that is, history focused solely on developments within a field that fails to acknowledge the larger social, political, and economic contexts in which events and individual actions unfold (Leahey, 1986). Avoiding this error of interpretation calls for an approach that Stocking (1965) has labeled historicism - an understanding of the past in its own context and for its own sake. Such an approach requires historians to immerse themselves in the context of the times they are studying.

What people do is imbedded in context, and it is this dynamic and fluid model that makes historical narrative meaningful. The notion of multiple determinants and estimates of their relative impact on historical construction led historian of psychology Laurel Furumoto to christen this "the new history," a signifier denoting that historic research should strive to be more contextual and less internal (Furumoto, 1989).

And it is with this in mind that I explore the admixture of people, places, and events that gave rise to the publication of Choosing a Vocation (Parsons, 1909) and by extension, the vocational guidance movement in America.

A New America

Frank Parsons (1854-1908) was a man of many interests and occupations. At the time of his death in 1908, he had worked as an engineer, teacher, administrator, vocational counselor, social critic, writer, and lawyer. Well educated and socially minded, Parsons was an advocate for the rights and needs of those whom he believed were exploited by industrial monopolies. He was a product of his time, and there was much about his time that he did not like. On the heels of the Civil War, America was rebuilding and expanding west. The railroad made expansion possible, and it stirred in Parsons a distrust and disdain for big business that motivated and informed his work and writings throughout his adult life (H. V. Davis, 1969). His modest tome on vocational choice was but one of a flood of books, articles, and treatises on the state of a nation that seemed to be beset by many woes. …

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