Social representations of career and career guidance in the changing world of working life

Abstract: This thesis explores the meaning of career as a phenomenon and its implication for career guidance. In 1996, career as a phenomenon was more or less considered to be an obsolete or even extinct phenomenon. Since then, career guidance has received increased attention along with the increased interest in lifelong learning strategies. This thesis is motivated by the paradoxical message of career as an extinct yet living phenomenon. Career is outlined as a bridging issue that involves several contexts and is characterized by a number of dominating discourses in tension with one another. Two educational fields linked by career are of particular interest: the field of education and training in working life and the educational field of career guidance counselling. This thesis explores the meaning of career among a triad of various interested parties in this time of transition in the world of working life, and it explores the sense in which such understanding(s) of career influence policies and practices of career guidance. The thesis is based upon four separate studies. The first study explores, in order to disclose underlying views on career, how the language of European policy documents on career guidance characterize career and career development. Qualitative content analysis is used as the basic method to approach the subject in the texts, with an inductive development of categories. The analysis then conducts a sender-oriented interpretation, based upon a textual model for analyzing documents. The results revealed that underlying perspective on career in the documents derive from economic perspective, learning perspective and political science perspective, and communicate career as subordinated to market forces. The second study pays attention to the receiving side of the ideational message, disclosed in the first study. The second study extends the analysis of the first study with an exploration of ethical declaration documents for the profession. The exploration focuses on significant key principles, the profession's role and mission, and significant changes between the initial and the revised ethical declaration. Similarities and differences were compared, combined with the first study’s results as an interpretive frame for analyzing what consequences and significance the core meaning of career at structural level will have for career guidance practice. The results revealed an implicit shift of emphasis in the career guidance mission, which creates uncertainty regarding on behalf of whom the guidance counsellor is working. The third study explores common-sense knowledge of career, among a group of people influenced by changing conditions in working life. This study explores what social representations people have about career. The study also explores how people's anchored thoughts reflect scientifically shaped thoughts, and how they relate to thoughts currently dominating on structural level. Results disclose how the group explored has stable social representations of career that are anchored in the past, in previous working life conditions, and that contrasts with perspectives dominating in the structural context. The group also has dynamic representations, which provide space for negotiation of the meaning of career. The fourth study explores guidance counsellors' social representations of their mission and of careertherein. Results generated four social representations expressed in argumentative pairs of opposites. The first pair is concerned with their professional mission and reveal their professional identity. The second is concerned with career. Their view on their mission and their professional identity is in sharp contrast with how they experience others' interpretation of their mission, as being a matching practice on behalf of the business sector. Guidance counsellors reject the general view of career among others' and they regard career in the context of guidance as something other than the common view. At the same time guidance counsellors reveal difficulties in really clarifying the meaning they ascribe to career. The empirical findings of each of the four studies are finally interpreted as a whole in the final section of this thesis. With support from social representations theory, the empirical findings illuminate the sources as bearers of social representations of career, which both meet and clash.