Locating Social Justice in Career Education: What Can a Small-Scale Study from New Zealand Tell Us?

By Irving, Barrie A. | Australian Journal of Career Development, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Locating Social Justice in Career Education: What Can a Small-Scale Study from New Zealand Tell Us?


Irving, Barrie A., Australian Journal of Career Development


INTRODUCTION

In New Zealand, career education is strategically located, actively bridging the gap between compulsory education and the social and economic world (Ministry of Education, 2003). Yet is it possible for career education to prepare students for the vagaries of an uncertain world in a socially just way (Irving & Raja, 1998) without providing a critical understanding of how social, political and economic discourses impact on constructions of career, inform career education, and shape our senses) of identity? This question should be at the heart of the debate concerning the purpose of career education and role of the career educator (Irving, 2005). However, our understanding of career education is clouded by its tendency to be driven pragmatically in response to government policy initiatives focused on economic requirements (Ruff, 2001), and further exacerbated by its lack of theoretical grounding (Harris, 1999).

In this article I explore the concept of career education, and relate it to a critical model of social justice. Three key findings that emerged from my small-scale qualitative study are then discussed. My conclusion draws the diverse strands of the literature and empirical data together. While acknowledging the limitations of the study, when considered alongside the literature, the findings provide career educators with opportunities to critically reflect on, and explore their own understanding of social justice and to examine how this informs their localised programs and practices.

LOCATING SOCIAL JUSTICE IN CAREER EDUCATION PRACTICE: THE LITERATURE

Social justice is a slippery concept (Griffiths, 1998), open to multiple interpretations (Espinoza, 2007), and often loosely defined (Sandretto, 2004). To address this, I have chosen to work with a critical social justice model that goes beyond concerns with simple inequalities. Critical social justice encompasses an understanding of our senses) of individual and collective identity, reflecting the multiple ways in which we are positioned, position ourselves and perceive others. It is concerned with: what it means to be a New Zealand citizen; our sense of cultural belonging; our place within the world; how we frame our 'career(s)'; and how we construct our hues (Young, 1990). This model provides a holistic and inclusive understanding, linking together social, political and economic aspects (Gale & Densmore, 2003). Integrating cultural recognition with redistribution (Gewirtz, 1998; Young, 1990), and advocating a dialogical approach (Young, 1995), it allows for members of all socially and culturally constituted groups to engage in discussion about, and critique of, their own practices and the practices of others (Parekh, 2000; Parker-Jenkins, Hartas & Irving, 2005), particularly those of the dominant culture.

So what does this mean for the development and delivery of career education? Patton and McMahon (2006) note that the concept of career not only lacks an agreed definition, but is ambiguous and differentially understood, with one theorist arguing that the term should be abandoned altogether (Richardson, 1993). This problem is exacerbated when considered in relation to the broader concept of career education, as this curriculum area is not only under-researched but also contested (Harris, 1999) and subject to multiple meanings and interpretations (Barnes, 2004; Vaughan & Gardiner, 2007). It is often conjoined with career guidance, presented as an adjunct of career counselling, or simply subsumed into a career development model (see Ministry of Education, 2003). The paucity of existing literature and research in the career education field (as opposed to career counselling), and lack of attention paid to issues of (in)equality or social justice, is also of concern. As Guichard (2001) observes, '[career education] practices only rarely aim at enhancing equality of opportunity, of lessening social inequity or enhancing collective development actions . …

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