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Title: Exploring politics at the intersection of critical psychology and career guidance : a Freudo-Marxist case for radical refusal
Other Titles: Career guidance for social justice : contesting neoliberalism
Authors: Olle, Chad D.
Keywords: Neoliberalism
Vocational guidance -- Philosophy
Social justice -- Vocational guidance
Career development
Issue Date: 2018
Publisher: Routledge
Citation: Olle, C. D. (2018). Exploring politics at the intersection of critical psychology and career guidance : a freudo-marxist case for radical refusal. In T. Hooley, R. G. Sultana & R. Thomsen (Eds.), Career guidance for social justice : contesting neoliberalism (pp. 159-176). London: Routledge.
Abstract: Since work is a primary activity by which a system of social relations is organised and reproduced (Kovel, 1986 ; Marx, 1887), this chapter asks what role scholars and practitioners at the intersection of career guidance and critical psychology might play in transforming society. Critical psychology signals a refusal of psychological essentialism, which views the decontextualized individual as a discrete embodiment of subjectivity (Kovel, 1981; Parker, 2007). Analyses typically include an awareness of how psychologised disciplines have historically lent scientific and institutional credibility to a unique, essentialised rendering of subjectivity, without which capitalism’s individualistic ideology is rendered unintelligible (Herman, 1995 ; Rose, 1996). Yet, while any emancipatory politics necessarily contains a rejection of psychological essentialism, it should not abandon the individual as a site of revolutionary potential. Along with robust social and political-economic analyses, theories of change must include considerations of ‘the personal’, for it is this sphere that contains ‘spontaneity and desire, the germs of transcendence’ (Kovel, 1981 , p. 60). Whether the personal sphere is labelled as the domain of psychology, guidance, or something else is secondary to how this sphere is accounted for in the context of a quasi-totality that also includes the oppressive and psyche-colonising forces of capitalism. How the personal is conceived in the context of neoliberal capitalism, as well as how this conception bears on emancipatory practice seems to be the question facing critical career guidance, if there is—or is to be —such a thing. The mission to account for the individual and society as enmeshed, mutually influencing domains has provoked many Marxists to sift through psychological theories for their potentially liberatory kernels and, likewise, psychological scholars to complement theories of the psyche with an account of social pathology. This is especially true of scholars who seek complementarity in psychoanalysis vis-à-vis Marxism and vice versa (e.g. Kovel, 1981 ; Parker, 2007; Pavὁn-Cuẻllar, 2009). More than anything, initial efforts to synthesise Marx and Freud were made by anti-capitalists to ward off despair. As prospects for revolution grew grimmer, Freud of all theorists, the great pessimist, became more relevant to revolutionary Marxists (Martin, 1996). Unfortunately, it is difficult not to see parallels in these neoliberal times. As the world’s population faces increased economic inequality and the growing prospect of environmental and nuclear catastrophe, paths to hopeful syntheses that yield promising political programs feel as vital as ever. With a theoretically sound Freudo-Marxist synthesis, leftists in career guidance might retain some optimism about the potential for individual and social transformation despite the repressive realities of capitalism. Fortunately, there is no shortage of cogent, unequivocal analyses of how systemic forces impinge on the healthy development of individuals and society in vocational psychology (Blustein, Olle, Connors-Kellgren, & Diamonti, 2016 ; Prilleltensky & Stead, 2012) and career guidance (Arthur, 2005; Hooley & Sultana, 2016; Sultana, 2014; Thomsen, 2014). By taking on the prevailing propensity to overemphasise the individual at the expense of the social, scholars have interrogated the ‘politics of responsibilisation’ that plays ‘into the hands of capital and the state with which it has made a historical pact’ (Sultana, 2014 , p. 15). Now, having articulated a convincing analysis of social conditions and their impact on individual mental health, critical career guidance finds itself in a similar place as critical psychology: trying to formulate an effective political strategy given the limitations of being precariously positioned within various institutions whose organisational priorities are aligned with capital. While discussions about the untenability of the status quo typically converge more than not, questioning the most effective strategy to address capitalist oppression in one’s role as a scholar and/or practitioner has resulted in political polarisation at the intersection of critical psychology and career guidance. To advocate for a political approach is to situate oneself proximal to a tradition that makes certain philosophical assumptions about subjectivity, all inextricably related to an analysis of social relations broadly, and capitalism specifically. In turn, one’s politics can be traced through certain lineages to discern what assumptions need to be made to justify one’s approach on theoretical grounds. Polarisation around these topics is nothing new—one can tie the debate to broader political discussions on the left and follow this same thread back to the buds of Critical Theory (Chambers, 2006). A re-engagement with the theoretical and philosophical assumptions of different political approaches may help critical scholars and practitioners clarify or recommit to their political stances and recalibrate their daily practices accordingly. With this rationale in mind, I will expand on Watts’ (1996) typology of political stances in career guidance, concentrating on progressive and radical stances and their positions relative to the liberal mainstream and, more specifically, to mainstream reactions to Marx and Freud.
ISBN: 9781138087385
Appears in Collections:Career guidance for social justice : contesting neoliberalism

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