Making a Difference? Developing Career Education as a Socially Just Practice

By Irving, Barrie A. | Australian Journal of Career Development, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Making a Difference? Developing Career Education as a Socially Just Practice


Irving, Barrie A., Australian Journal of Career Development


INTRODUCTION

Freire (1999) reminds us that 'we are surrounded by a pragmatic discourse that would have us adapt to the [so-called] facts of reality' (p. 7). This is increasingly evident within the career literature where references are constantly made to the real world, the centrality of satisfying (paid) work, and the need for individuals to become their own entrepreneurs. Official career education policy in New Zealand recommends that everyone should be considered as having a career, which implies that participation in paid employment should not be the only marker of career engagement, however the primary focus remains on economic participation. Career educators are thus instructed to ensure that their students gain a range of career competencies, be productive citizens, develop their employability skills and respond positively to a fast-changing economic environment, particularly if they want to stay in employment (Ministry of Education, 2009).

But primarily positioning students as autonomous economic actors has a tendency to deflect attention away from broader social justice considerations with reference to a collective sense of identity, the valuing of individuals and how life/careers might be differentially constructed and enacted. Moreover, the importance attached to paid employment in relation to a life/career worth living also appears to be overplayed. Scant attention is given to the ways in which opportunities, actions and values are influenced by structural social inequalities that are informed by political and economic discourses, reinforced through the ideologies of the state. For those who manage, develop or deliver career education in secondary schools, this issue would appear to be of significant importance if they are to avoid becoming unwitting or complicit state agents (McIlveen & Patton, 2006).

Conceptualising Social Justice and Injustice: Understanding Oppression

'Like "equality of opportunity" or "choice", "social justice" is one of those politically malleable and essentially contested phrases which can mean all things to all people' (Thrupp & Tomlinson, 2005, p. 549). As a sliding signifier (Apple, 2008) the language of social justice has a tendency to be used loosely (Sandretto, 2004), leaving it open to multiple interpretations and possible confusion, potentially obscuring more than it reveals. If social justice is to be coherent, consistent and useful in practice it needs to be clearly defined.

While concepts of social justice can take many forms (for a fuller discussion see Irving, 2010), the critical model developed by Young (1990) appears to be of particular value for career education. This model goes beyond concerns with simple equality in relation to the just distribution of social and economic goods (Rawls, 1971), and complex notions that are focused on the fairness of distributive outcomes (Walzer, 1983). It is concerned with the ways in which processes and practices of oppression and domination serve to differentially position, value and to advantage or disadvantage socially constituted groups (Young, 2001), contributing to the perpetuation of structural, and concomitantly individual, injustice and inequalities.

Five interconnected and often overlapping forms of oppression are identified by Young (1990):

* exploitation: the inequitable transfer of labour benefits from one group to another

* marginalisation: the exclusion of particular groups of people from useful participation in social life

* powerlessness: a lack of authority status, autonomy, sense of worth and voice

* cultural imperialism: the imposition of dominant values through stereotyping of behaviours, which not only devalues the cultural expressions and experiences of oppressed groups but also imposes a dominant view of how the world, and cultural life, should be seen

* violence: the fear of real or implied violence that is prompted by a desire to inflict harm on group members. …

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