Discourse Analysis in Career Counseling and Development

By Stead, Graham B.; Bakker, Terri M. | Career Development Quarterly, September 2010 | Go to article overview

Discourse Analysis in Career Counseling and Development


Stead, Graham B., Bakker, Terri M., Career Development Quarterly


Discourse analysis can be used to understand and interpret culturally and socially produced meanings regarding work and to outline how specific rules and conventions can configure meaning production of work in context. The implications of some core concepts in discourse analysis pertinent to career counseling are explored, including discourse, deconstruction, power/knowledge, psy-complex, ideology, and identity. Such an exploration has the potential to initiate a process of critical self-reflection in career counseling and development so as to enhance ethical, fair, and inclusive practices in the field.

According to Savickas and Baker (2005), career psychology is in need of reinvigoration to respond to the challenges of rapid transformation in a postmodern world. They argued that career psychology needs to revisit the contextual and social concerns that characterized the field in the early 20th century. One approach seldom used in career counseling or research is discourse analysis, which may be capable of innovatively addressing global psychology issues such as career development (Stead & Young, 2007), examining the social and contextual concerns alluded to by Savickas and Baker, and offering new insights to career counseling practice. Discourse analysis may enable career psychologists to expose the system of values and power relations implied in professional and client discourses. It may allow career psychologists to challenge the essentialism (i.e., the view that people have a core nature waiting to be discovered) and individualism central to U.S. psychology. Discourse analysis may relieve the individual of carrying the responsibility for social ills and injustices, which discourse analysis reveals as embedded in social and power relations.

Discourse analysis is similar to social constructionism in that it is radically antiessentialist and focuses on how personal identities and social interactions are constituted through language, hence its potential use to counselors. It facilitates the application of psychological knowledge and tools across cultures and recognizes the embeddedness of human interaction in context. Discourse analysis differs from most formulations of social constructionism (see Young & Collin, 2004) and from career development theories, such as career construction theory (Savickas, 2002 ), the developmental-contextual approach (Vondracek, Lerner, & Schulenberg, 1986), and contexualist career theory (Young, Valach, & Collin, 2002), in that it is particularly useful in assisting counselors in understanding power, poi'iúcs, and ideology in human interactions. Discourse analysis thereby makes explicit whose interests are being served by counseling practices. It deconstructs how discourses may be taken for granted in one context but have oppressive effects in other contexts. These features of discourse analysis may facilitate a process of critical self-reflection in career development so as to enhance ethical, fair, and inclusive practices in the field. In a similar vein, discourse analysis may also enrich the application of career development in, for example, social justice perspectives (e.g., Blustein, Perry, Kenna, & De Wine, 2007), feminist perspectives (e.g., Höpfl & Atkinson, 2000), and multicultural competency frameworks (e.g., Worthington, Soth-McNett, & Moreno, 2007).

Discourse analysis is a broad and varied field encompassing a variety of understandings of social realities, methods, and applications, such as Laclau and Mouffc's (1985) discourse theory, Fairclough's (1995) critical discourse theory, Potter and WethereU's (1987) interpretative approach, and Foucault's ( 1972, 1977) poststructuralist approach. The purpose of this article is to reflect briefly on the recent origins of discourse analysis through structuralism and post/structuralism and show how important aspects of discourse analysis may possibly be applied to enhance understanding of career counseling and research. …

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