We live in a globalised world – right? We hop on and off planes around the world like we pop to the shop for the paper? We are all part of the global village?
Well maybe you, but generally not me. Although I work at the International Centre for Guidance Studies I actually don’t spend my life jet-setting round the world as the name might suggest. What is more I although I am in web-based contact (global village style) with scholars from around the world these relationships are confined to certain bits of the world ( Canada and the US, Europe and to a lesser extent Australia and New Zealand). So heading off to the IAEVG conference in Bangalore was a big deal for me and it didn’t disappoint.
I’ve got enough material from the conference for about a million blog posts, but I’ve got to start somewhere so I thought I’d try and write something about what I learnt about India while I was there.
In some senses international conferences are the ultimate global villages. People fly in from all over the world, head to a conventional centre and talk about their pet obsession for a few days before flying back again. Generally (he says on the basis more of hearsay than experience) the context isn’t that important. We’re in a global village after all, we’ve got to be somewhere and here is as good as anywhere. However this was not the case at the JIVA conference. The context loomed large and informed the thinking that was developed through the conference in a major way.
Essentially this happened for some fairly obvious reasons. The conference organisers made the decision to concentrate most of the keynote speeches on the Indian context and they also managed to mobilise the fledgling career guidance profession from across India to attend in large numbers. All in all this meant that although I spent most of my time in hotels and conferences centres I also felt like I’d visited India rather than just the global village convention centre. There was loads of time to talk to Indian practitioners about the context of their work and the nature of their practice which was hugely interesting.
India provides some very interesting lessons for people interested in the field of career guidance. What is particularly interesting is the way that the context is informing the way that the idea of career guidance is developing. In some ways the country is in a similar situation to the US at the time when Frank Parsons kicked the whole thing off in 1909. India is urbanising, industrialising and inventing new and different jobs at an amazing speed. This means that they are experiencing waves of migration from rural to urban and a strong need to help people navigate an incredibly dynamic labour market.
What makes the current generation of thought leaders in the Indian guidance movement different from Frank Parsons is the sophistication of their critique of modernity and capitalism. Whereas Parsons saw modernity and capitalism as pretty much immutable processes the conversation at the JIVA conference was focused on the contingency of these processes and critically about the role of guidance professionals within them. Is career guidance simply about smoothing the process of urbanisation and economic reordering? Or does career guidance actually provide a space through with the inevitability of these processes can be challenged and counter-cultural values can be explored?
These ideas were dealt with in a variety of ways throughout the conference, but it was probably Anita Ratnam who set this out most clearly in her discussion about the value of craft. Her argument revolved around a challenge to the idea of industrial modernity as a political ideal and unstoppable narrative. Anita and her colleagues argued that India had an enormous and potentially highly profitable craft sector characterised by high skill, self-employed workers producing excellent products which they could take pride in. These workers, their communities and the whole craft tradition was under threat by mainstream culture which devalued their skills, ignored their lifestyle and sought only to engage them in the mainstream capitalist economy.
So, what does a careers professional do when a young person from a village comes to ask advice about heading off to the city to work in a factory or some element of the service industry? Should the professional just facilitate their decision, exploring their personality traits and matching them with appropriate roles in the capitalist economy. Should they provide labour market information which explains the seemingly limitless opportunities for commodity accumulation that await the bright and energetic individual in the city? Alternatively should they talk about the challenges of the alienated industrial workforce and encourage the young person to think about what might be lost in moving away from crafts and rural life in both personal and political terms.
The size of India, both in geography and population, was an issue that came out time and time again. A country that takes days to travel across is not one it is easy to generalise policy prescriptions about. However one speaker pointed out that the different Indias often live side by side. India is rural, urban, tribal, rich, poor, educated, industrial, craft-based, Hindu, Muslim and so on. We talked about the need to reconceive career guidance in an Indian cultural context and yet it is clearly a nonsense to talk about a single cultural context. For the urban middle class something which draws on, but adapts, Western models of career guidance is probably pretty useful. However for the rest of the country the challenge to develop a theory and practice paradigm for career guidance is far greater.
One of the most interesting themes that came across in the conference was the idea that the individual orientation of career guidance might not be the most appropriate mode to work in for the Indian context. There was lots of discussion around alternative orientations that any model will need to engage with (family, community, religion etc) however perhaps most interestingly was the idea that Tony Watts summarised as “can career development be linked to community development”. In other words we are back again to the idea that we might need to challenge prevailing economic and cultural realities and be part of a process of transforming them. This is an idea that seems very important in India, but also something that has huge potential in the UK context that I’m more familiar with. Is it morally possible to continue to train people in employability skills when there are no jobs? Or when the jobs that they go to are hyper-exploitative? In this case do we not also need to find a way to link career guidance and community development.
Career has the potential to be the consideration of how individuals live in the world. The old feminist slogan “the personal is the political” can be dusted off and applied to the activity of career guidance, as long as we are also able to add “the political is the personal to it”. However people relate to the worlds of learning and work, where they conceive of themselves in the economy and what they believe to be adequate levels of reward and control seem to me to be crucial ideas that career guidance needs to engage with.
I got a very strong sense that the Indian career guidance world was taking these issues seriously and considering ways forward carefully. This may mean that career guidance takes on very different professional values and practice paradigms from those that it has taken in the West. However, I feel that we would be foolish to simply label these as a response to local and cultural conditions. There are lessons and critiques which countries with more established guidance traditions would do well to consider.
I think th
at we’ll all be watching the Indian career guidance movement with considerable interest.