In her closing address to the IAEVG conference Guðbjörg Vilhjálmsdóttir recalled the last IAEVG conference in Sweden in 1988. She remembered a Swedish politician saying that if you could take three ideas home with you after a conference then you could feel that you had had a good conference.
I think that three ideas is pretty challenging normally. I’m usually happy with one or two. But this was a very good conference so I think that I can probably find three.
Idea #1: The capability approach
I’ve been hearing about the work of Amartya Sen for a few years now. Many of those who are interested in career guidance and social justice argue that Sen provides a strong theoretical grounding for thinking in this way.
Truth be told, I’ve never felt that I’ve fully gripped what is being proposed by Sen. But, I then went to a symposium on Sen and the ‘capabilities approach’ and I think that I finally go it. The following diagram summaries these way in which Sen describes how resources are converted into wellbeing.
One of the key points is that access to resources alone will not deliver the good life. We need to attend to how we are able to access these resources, make use of them, how wisely we deploy them and so on. This conception of justice fits well with the focus of career guidance on the individual and agentic decision-making, but also encourages thinking about a range of barriers to justice.
I left the session still not entirely convinced by Sen, but felt that I understand both what he is arguing and why this might matter for career guidance.
Idea #2: The times they are a changing
In the past I’ve often felt a bit excluded from IAEVG conferences. It has historically been strongly dominated by psychologists and very focused on individual decision making. As someone interested in policy and approaching the field from an educational perspective, I sometimes felt that this wasn’t really for me. However, I felt this start to change at the Madrid conference a couple of years ago. There was a lot of talk about social justice, and some sense that the field was in flux.
This was even more apparent in Gothenburg this year. Partially this was undoubtedly caused by the location. The Nordic countries have historically approached career guidance differently, emphasising career learning and social justice, but I felt that it was wider than that.
Obviously I have been part of a move to resituate the field around social justice (see Career Guidance for Social Justice). Many of the people that we have been working with on this were in attendance, and it would be nice to think that this project has had an impact. But, in truth, the shift in the field felt more fundamental. Lots of people were addressing the changing times through a wide variety of theories, practices and research. There was a lot more talk about group work and community and some scepticism about tests.
Where all of this is going, it was difficult to tell, but there was a strong sense that it was going somewhere and that the theoretical basis of the field might be shifting.
Idea #3: We are still some way from praxis
One of the great things about the IAEVG conferences is that it brings together practitioners with researchers. In many ways the conference runs like an academic conference, but it is one where academics and researchers are in dialogue with practitioners who make up the majority of the conference attendees. This is a very rich dialogue, albeit one which sometimes has some tensions.
I was struck by the ongoing distance between theory and practice at the conference. This is not intended as a criticism, I certainly provided some inputs that were light on practical application. But, rather to recognise that at some point we have to move from theory to answering the ‘what do you do on a Monday morning’ question. The danger of not answering this question is that practice continues, without reference to theory, dynamically adapting to circumstance, but without a clear guiding light. On the other hand if theories are developed without reference to practice they are likely to over simplify and miss important questions that occur in reality, but can be bypassed on the page.
IAEVG and the careers field is an ideal one for the bringing together of theory and practice (praxis). This is one of the reasons that I love working in it so much. But, we always have to attend to this dialogue and continue to renew it all the time.
So, that’s what I go out of #IAEVG2018Sweden. What about you?