My reflections on the Conference were triggered by a comment at the end of a scientific paper session at the Jiva Conference 2010. The comment that a member of the audience made was “ there’s something going on at this conference,…. the Indians are saying something different… “ Till then the conference was for me an explosion of faces and voices from all over the world with several strands of thought and approaches to career guidance ( CG) that did not seem to always fit together with any coherence .Yet, that spontaneous remark brought a lot of my scattered impressions together and I decided to explore whether the Indians had indeed said anything different.
Like all the other delegates, I too could not attend all presentations as they were conducted in parallel sessions. To understand the conference in its entirety I therefore went back t o the lovely “book of abstracts” to examine if Indians had really anything specific or significant to say. Till then, I was a trifle disappointed with the quality of presentations from Indian delegates and was concerned about the lack of rigour, structure and ability to analyse deeply data that was being presented. Anyway, I kept these thoughts aside for a while and attempted to look at the terrain that had been covered in presentations from India.
Culling out from the book of abstracts, what I have found among Indian presenters is a focus on social structure and culture. What I found was that in most of the Indian presentations, the role of family ( Bijal Bhatt , Maxim Periera) role of community , (Anuradha Bakshi et al) of custom & traditions (manjuri Bull & Wantina Kharknor, Chakradhar Buddha, Singje marak, Sairabell Kurbah) of philosophy ( Shilpa Pandit) and values ( Devika V.R. and Girishwar Mishra) ) of social location in terms of gender ( Radha Parikh) of class (Gideon and Kamini Rege) of caste & occupation (Anita Ratnam), of disability ( Sonali nag et al) and of the rural urban divide ( karthin kalayanraman) were highlighted . The individual, was presented as being constructed through these structural and cultural identities and the presenters seemed to be underlining the fact that CG in India needs to evolve within this framework.
In addition the , the keynote session by Anita Ratnam et al. raised further political questions about CG by focusing on work& meaning in the context of alienation, knowledge as site of domination, the dialectic between art, craft and design, the dilemmas thrown up by the interface between tradition & modernity and the uneasy alliances between the industrial revolution, feudalism and capitalism. The need for CG to address politics of knowledge, the social inclusion and economic mobility of excluded and marginalized communities, the ecological sustainability of production systems and the tyranny of globalization were underscored.
A cursory glance at abstracts of presentations from other “developing “countries also revealed a somewhat similar trend. For instance, presenters form Latin American countries like Venezuela and Argentina attempted to highlight social capital and civic consciousness (Grisel Vallejo & Olga Oliveros), Latin American culture and History ( Lillian Castellanos), conscience , values , social environment and collective consciousness in Career Guidance ( Marina Martinez), architectural models Vs organic models for harmony( Omaira Lessire). On the other hand, speakers from South Africa ( Renette Du Toit, Patricia Felderman), drew our attention to issues of race and class. There was little here about black cultures and more about the structural economic, social and educational exclusions that black youth are facing in post Apartheid South Africa.
It is interesting to note that speakers form Canada –a coun
try of immigrants- highlighted the immigrant experience ( Roberta Neault and Nancy Arthur) , once again reminding us that there countries and regions struggling with unique issues related to migrations. At the other end of the spectrum, the problems faced by UAE locals/ nationals, in a workplace that is 90% comprised of migrants and expatriates, were also described (Debra McDermott & Roberta Neault).
Even more interesting to me were diaspora voices and the ways in which they combined perspectives form their native lands as well from the countries where they are now working. Drawing on personal and social constructionist approaches ( Arti Kumar) and beautifully highlighting the need and relevance of indigenous models of career development and vocational psychology (Frederick Leong) these “hybrid” thinkers seem to have integrated two worlds ( and worldviews?) with rigour and care.
Lest the reader assume I am appreciating only third world voices, let me quickly clarify that the knowledge of career psychology theory, meticulousness and statistical proficiency in measuring impacts and outcomes of CG models, and mastery over technological tools like use of internet for career guidance that emerged in presentations from countries like Portugal, Finland, UK were extremely impressive. Yet, the focus on the individual ‘s personality ( rather than identities) seemed to dominate the use of purely psychometric tools to assess and analyse career aspirations.
Several speakers have touched on the need for culturally sensitive CG. However, there have also been references to social structure and we cannot simplistically conclude that CG has to evolve differently in different regions taking cognizance only of cultural specificities. Are these region s only different in cultural terms or do they also have different economic and social histories, current economic policies and political strategies and “Paths to progress”, ? Did the presentations from India not highlight the social, economic and political environment of the individual and the political economy of the labour market?
As a corollary to that question – were the Indans’ presentations focused on culture and structure -because the presenters were from India? Or was it more to do it the professional backgrounds /academic disciplines of the presenters? I began exploring this and found some interesting facts as to why structural identities had been identified. Chakaradhar Budha is a social activist working with youth from indigenous communities, keenly aware of adivasi culture as well as of the multiple structures of oppression and marginalization that adivasi youth face. Kartik Kayanraman is a doctor by profession but has closely observed changes among youths aspirations in the rural community he serves nuanced by class and cultural dimensions. Radha Parikh has been both teacher of Special Education with Information Technology, has handled a Domestic Violence Hotline in Austin and is currently Convenor of the gender cell at the Institute she works in. Manjuri Bull & Wantina Kharknor are teachers of History and Commerce who together made a remarkable presentation on the definition of livelihoods itself . Shilpa Pandit, has been exploring Indian culture and philosophy to unravel the multiple narratives and identities that compete within individuals, as they struggle to define self and work in searching for reconciliation. So, could one then conclude that their difference in approach to individuals , is an outcome of their academic/professional disciplines and rather than their being “from India”?
I then looked at the presentations that focused on such issues even from “developed” countries and was not surprised to find that academic disciplines were significant influencers in the approach to CG. Jolanata Kavale who is studying philosophical approaches to Human Development and Education, with an interest in social justice , presented a paper on balancing personal and social needs, problematizing aims, results and definitions of vocational counselling. The paper on “Educational Transitions: Social class and gender in family dialogues…” is presented by a multidisciplinary team of Marjatta ( Educational Psychology), Leena Koski ( Sociology) and Hannu Raity ( Psychology). Similarly, Sanna Makheim who raised very fundamental questions on politics & objectives of CG is working in the discipline of Sociology of Education to examine political and socio cultural dimensions of EG.
In other words, irrespective of region, the academic backgrounds of presenters was a significant factor in their choice of theme and approach to the “individual”. This was further validated by the few presentations that went beyond specific regions. Notable here is the paper by Helmut Zelloth on CG in European Union and neighboring Countries where he attempts to compare the demand for CG services in low and middle income countries. Not surprisingly- his academic background is in Philosophy, Psychology, Pedagogy and Geography!
Surely, this suggests that while cultural specificities are important in CG, equally important is the need for an interdisciplinary and structural approach in evolving and delivering CG services. Merely reducing this to culture would be a dangerous trap as both cultural and structural identities interplay with personality traits in each individual and any over simplification here could be problematic. It also frees us from the notion of the “developing” countries as repositories of culture or tradition and the opacity or obfuscation that could arise from such a position. More importantly, it would be dangerous to assume that a country like India has one “culture” while in reality the country has a plurality of cultures that are in constant interface with each other.
So is there nothing that binds CG professionals across regions/countries? Are there universal common themes that ran across presentations form different regions, ie from “developed” and “developing” countries? Yes, the fact that personality traits of individuals needs to be recognized came across from all regions and disciplines. Secondly , concerns about training required, standards and competency levels of the Career Guidance professionals also emerged across regions( Bernadette Gigilotti & Naomi Corlett, Kerry Bernes, Michel Turcotte et.al ., Anil kumar, Swathi Menon et al, Gideon et al and Julio Gonzalez). There seems to be a universal acceptance that the challenges before the CG professionals are complex and immense, with some cross-cutting issues and some specific to culture/ and location in structure.
To put it more simply, maybe what the Jiva Conference underlined is not merely that ”Indians are saying something different”, but that working as CG professionals requires understanding the clients social location, multiple identities as well as personality. As identities are discursive and embedded in structure and political economy, in cultural processes and in philosophical paradigms, and as personality traits are complicated by these, an inter disciplinary approach to CG is the need of the hour.